In class and in a few blog posts there is a consistent trend that is presenting itself – an “us versus them” mentality. I think that the vast majority of this type of speak is culturally influenced, because we are taught to talk and think about things in dichotomous (and often dualistic) terms just in general. I also think, though, that a lot of the topics we discussed in class are difficult to relate to, especially focusing on an interactive, virtual world like Second Life, when there are few to none who have had personal experience with it. The advantages and disadvantages addressed in the articles this week, especially in Boellstorff, are part of a world that few of us have had much experience with, which influences our opinions and also our ability to analyze it.
(Disclaimer: This episode contains relevant content, but also adult content that might be considered sensitive by some.)
I mentioned this show in class, and as I said, it’s not exactly an academic account by any means. But (as far as my understanding goes) it does accurately depict the types of people who frequent worlds like Second Life and many of the users that Boellstorff writes about. The most important facts to understand in order to understand what’s it like to live “IRL” but also in a virtual world without them being exclusively separate relies on the beliefs of the person who is participating in both. While it may be something most of us can’t understand, reading the accounts in Boellstorff article and watching the video above can show us more about the other side of things and what it’s like to feel as though you are so constrained in reality that you cannot truly express your inner being.
Another piece of this virtual world puzzle that we struggle with, that isn’t the same for those who participate actively in a consistent, virtual world is the idea that we’ve touched on in class about authenticity. The author originating that discussion (Turkle) has a very specific idea of authenticity – digital communication couldn’t possibly be more authentic than face-to-face communication – and we as a class may see authenticity in many different ways. However, as stated before, the users in this Second Life world do not necessarily feel as though they are being inauthentic, and at times feel as though they are more true to themselves in Second Life than in real life (as stated in the Boellstorff’s article).
Personally, the only issue I see with this is those who fall outside of this mostly well-intentioned idea. Some users, maybe even a majority, are really seeking connections in meaningful ways that will be sustainable and relationships that reflect very real parts of themselves, even in a virtual world. There will be other users in all communities that do not have those same intentions in mind. These may be exceptions to the rule, but what make me lean more towards Turkle’s feeling of authenticity. In a world of “Catfish” (explained in video below), even talking to someone on Facebook can be complicated with deception and misrepresentation, so when you take it to another level of creating a (sometimes completely different) persona in a virtual world, how can you know who’s being real to their ‘real’ selves, and who’s not?
(This show is a spinoff of the movie “Catfish”, a documentary – ironically – who’s authenticity has been disputed. The show is definitely scripted and kind of cheesy, but it explains the whole story of the original movie. There are multiple ways to track down the actual movie, but this is easily accessible for anyone interested. Despite the unbelievable quality of these episodes, these types of interactions happen all the time.)