Bob Lloyd, a multi-degreed former techie with a knack for the pen, recently wrote a piece for BlogCritic where he asked whether online worlds were replacing our sense of self with an amorphous nothingness.
Pixels and Policy breaks down Lloyd's research and asks: Are virtual worlds making us into little more than an ever-changing combination of groups and avatar masks?
Metaverse Personality Disorder
From Lloyd's article:
Certainly, all of our interactions influence us in some form, but the
level of control we have over our virtual interactions effectively
insulates us as individuals, and in a real sense we can now choose how
to react without the pressure of real time.
That makes us both more reflective about the consequences of virtual
interactions, and able to take more virtual social risk. We get the
entertainment value without the social consequences of alienating our
real-life friends, whom we generally value more. But it could also
influence us negatively.
Are we more willing to take risks when consequences exist solely in the Metaverse? It appears so. Operating in Second Life or any other virtual world makes it much easier to express personal beliefs that may be disruptive to one's personal and professional life.
This is because anonymity is the norm in virtual worlds – unless an avatar makes it clear who he or she is, it is as if the avatar is being operated by a shadow. What Lloyd asks is whether we're becoming so accustomed to operating extensions of ourselves from behind a veil of shadow that we're beginning to expect that same shadow in non-avatar interactions.
Living in Reality by Virtual World Rules
Lloyd cites Twitter as one of these cross-world services. We throw caution to the wind in our updates, and some prominent Twitter users express shock when their online behavior catches headlines for immodesty or other character-breaking acts.
A scantily-clad avatar hardly merits consideration, but were the avatar's creator to dress in the same way, it could be construed as breaking real-world social norms on dress in public. What does this mean for our conduct in the real world?
Will we begin to operate more in the world that allows us more freedom to express ourselves, or will real-world social norms adapt over a generation due to the growing percentage of people who conduct both virtual and real lives?
The real world is already encroaching into the stubborn independence of the virtual world, as companies with virtual wings seek to enforce a dress code on company avatars. Can an individual who exists in both virtual and real worlds continue to function on two conflicting sets of social expectations and norms?