Monday, 4 May 2009

Masked Identity 2: Incognito in a Second Life

Behind the Mask

In my previous posting, I wrote that I was able to get beyond the mask without feeling that I need to get behind it. That said, there are times, when masks ARE very much divisive. I'm not talking about face coverings necessarily. A mask of untruths, never helps. Speaking on the phone, is only a partial conversation when you can't actually read the expressions of the other speaker. The written word is particularly notorious - masking out so many of the signals we get in a face-to-face communication situation. So much of what is sometimes meant can be left out, the danger being that we get a partial message that somehow becomes an official statement because it is written. And then there are social chat forums, like Second Life.

An Avatar in a Second Life

In Vedic philosophical traditions, an avatar is said to be an incarnation of a transmigrated soul. In other words, your alternative self (from the one that is or was). In the cyber-world, this usually means your online guise. In Second Life, your avatar can be created from a set of characteristics - you can define facial features, body type - dress style, gestures etc. Sounds like fun maybe, but scratch beyond the superficiality of it, then it is perhaps the ultimate in a communication behind a mask. I need convincing that it is actually healthy.

I've drifted away from the novelty that IRC chatrooms once held. Many internet providers won't go there anyway since chat rooms have fallen into a kind of disrepute for being associated with the darker corners of the internet. On a positive, I once did have a really interesting conversation with someone in Mexico City when we stumbled upon a chance meeting in a chatroom, but often I've found that lots of the 20-30 something chatrooms are where insults are traded and where you're bound to stumble across a nut. Maybe I should try a forum for gardeners*.

And maybe perhaps my opinions on Second Life are equally onesided. I suspect so. My avatar, Tor Nandahar**, is actually a cool guy, but he's picky. Really, having done the test drive, having walked the walk, having been patient and having given myself time to watch and learn, I'm not all that enamoured - I'm not speaking about the technology here, which I think has its plusses - but with the frustration of being in a public forum where all I want to do is "speak" with a couple of interesting people - fickle encounters do not please. In anycase, most folk in their artificially beautified form look a little too perfect (albeit in a surreal animated world) to be all that real anyway.

There are positives - island communities where beautiful avatars live in bliss and where people are there by invitation only. There are instances of educational use of Second Life, so I tried to float into an ESL forum. I thought it might be fun, but I found a strangely haunting Robinson Crusoe experience where I was the only one on the island. I was able to read the notices, but I did not find another soul there. The game-play aspects are interesting. Avatars can fly and you can earn Second Life credits (Linden Dollars) to spend. You can build your own islands have have your friends over to party.

Would I recommend? As a Virtual Learning Environment, maybe. Second Life is a helpful way to connect people from distant places, but only if the perfect cosmetic self is as important as having a meaningful human interaction.

* I miss my garden, and whilst I found some really helpful tips on USENET forums, I'm not sure most gardeners would not bother too much with beautified fantasies of themselves in a forum like Second Life
** based on my nom de plume, Tor_Khan

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