Theory of Relativity…

June 11, 2009


I avoided science courses like the plague when I was in school, so if you got here looking for some explanation of Albert Einstein‘s Theory of Relativity, you might want to go back and give your search engine a good kick.  My reasons for avoiding science were a little complicated.  One reason was that my father worked in the sciences and steering clear was a some sort of act of rebellion (I know I was stupid, but I’ll plead teenager as an excuse).  Another reason was that I convinced myself I wasn’t that good at them.  And the final reason was that the sciences seemed all about finding certain answers when I much preferred things to be gray and a little fuzzy.  I now know that none of these reasons were good or exactly true.  So while I’ve developed a greater appreciation for science, it still isn’t my thing but I am very grateful for those who find excitement in the subject.

Like my appreciation for science, my perspective on identity in Second Life has shifted over time.  For my first months, the Great Wall of Lanna stood between my first and second lives with very few facts about my first life clamoring over to anyone.  As time has gone on and I’ve gotten to know people, I’ve elected to share more of my first life and, in some instances, share identifying first life details.  I know that my experience of shifting my identity boundaries is hardly unique.  But this post isn’t really about the fact that I’ve gotten more comfortable about sharing my first life, but that boundaries that we choose to put on our identity in Second Life is hardly a fixed concept.   Not just for ourselves, but for everyone around us; and that is where the fun comes in.  How do we choose to relate to people given all of our different identity boundaries in-world?

Can you relate to this?  Then read more after the jump!

How people interact with Second Life identity is, well, relative. The fact that there are whole ranges of boundaries that people choose to set for their Second Life will likely come as no surprise; people come to Second Life for different reasons, so why should approach to SL identity be any different?  On one end of the spectrum, there are those for whom identity is simply who they show themselves to be in SL; there may or may not be a big difference between their first and second lives, they just don’t want the two to mingle at all.   Then on the other end of the spectrum, there are those for whom information about first life is critical; these people often have first life info in their profiles and SL is another social networking and communication tool for their first lives.  (And for those of you keeping score at home, I’m not trying to dig up the old Immersionist vs. Augmentationist debate; I’m mentioning the range to set up context.)  The reality for most people seems to be somewhere along the continuum of those two extremes.   What it seems like to me isn’t so much how we choose to define our own identity, but rather that it is about how our choices about the boundaries we set dictate our interactions.

Different people have different boundaries.  The interesting thing is what might feel like a comfortable boundary to me could appear secretive to one person and seem frighteningly open to another.   This is the place, to me, where the drama of Second Life identity often begins.  While people tend to naturally gravitate toward others with similar boundaries, what happens between people with different conceptions of boundaries?    If you’re anything like me, I slide along the continuum of keeping first and second life separate but very often find where I set my boundaries relates to a mix of where the other person sets theirs and intuitive feelings of trust (or developed feelings of trust in longer term interactions) that the person isn’t going to turn out to be the creepy stalkery sort.   And, sometimes, it simply doesn’t feel like it matters.

I think Botgirl had it partially right in her post on pseudonymous relationships if you expect to develop healthy personal relationships, you should expect that won’t happen unless you’re willing to share something of your first life as well.   But I will add this caveat, relationships are social contracts of sorts and sharing first life info doesn’t seems to matter if everyone involved has the same expectations of boundaries.    Since everyone in SL does have a different view of identity, maybe we should take the time to talk to friends about what identity boundaries – if any – are important to you.  Too frequently, people leave these sorts of conversations vague and ill-defined and while we’ve all seen the profile tabs stating RL is RL and SL is SL, do we know what that really means to one another?

How do you set your boundaries?  Do you take time to talk about it explicitly with friends?  Or is it something that tends to evolve dynamically over time and you rely on an intuitive sense of boundary lines?  Most of all, how do you what are the right boundaries for you as you get to  know people with boundaries different from your own?



  1. When I get into a relationship that I think is *serious*, I explicitly state my boundaries and encourage the other to do the same. I think it makes things SO much easier. Friendships, on the other hand (hmm, they’re serious, too) it’s not quite the same. Because typically a friendship just sort of grows. I don’t reveal a lot about myself, sometimes. And I never really pry into RL details about the other. I think there is sort of an unwritten set of boundaries that many of us adhere to. Though I do think that set is changing a bit as the world grows. Where it used to be impolite to ask RL questions, it’s now becoming more commonplace. *And* I’ve even seen cases where people get offended if you’re not willing to share. Which is completely foreign to me. I do have boundaries, and I’m mostly good at keeping to them. I sometimes ride the fence. But anyone that’s a friend of mine seems to know what they are, even if unspoken. And hasn’t faulted me for keeping quiet when I feel the need to.

  2. Over the last 2+ years in SL I’ve had an interesting range of interactions with people from all points on the Immersionist-Augmentationist axis, with a variety of twists and turns along the way to keep it interesting.

    As with most, my own boundaries have shifted hither and thither over time. Currently I’m residing down toward the Immersionist end of the pool, though not all the way at the end of it.

    It’s definitely something I discuss as I get close to someone, and I have some extensive discussion of my preferences in my in-world profile. Sometimes people are willing to accept and adapt, other times not so much.

    The spectrum of personal boundaries has been beaten to bits, though. What fascinates me, now, is how different people react to others with varying boundaries. How willing are you to interact with someone with a difference in boundaries, and how much of a difference can you tolerate? How far will you or can you bend your own rules to meet the other person’s needs or wants?

    I’m generally willing to adapt to the boundaries of anyone regarding themselves, but I’m not very willing to budge my own boundaries to suit the expectations of others. I’ve had unpleasant experience with doing that.

    I had a friendship with someone who had basically no boundaries between the two lives. She enjoyed and wanted to use voice chat, webcams, and for all intents and purposes was interested in my first life, and not in my second life. For her, SL was just another social network, as mentioned above. I bent, a little bit, and used voice chat with her, and on a couple of occasions had a one-way webcam session where I could see her, but she could not see me. It made me extraordinarily uncomfortable, and probably led to a deep disconnect between us that lingers still. I think, though I can’t know with any certainty, that we would be closer now if I’d stuck to my boundaries.

    I do think it is easiest to get along with people with similar expectations. My current (and hopefully permanent) SL partner and I are very much the same in our boundaries. We share with each other the daily events and future plans of our first lives, but neither of us knows the other’s first life name, appearance, or any other readily identifying information. We will never physically meet. We discussed it, and mutually agreed to those boundaries in our relationship. It works well for us.

    For some, that must seem very odd, to erect those walls between us. For others, it must seem dreadfully anti-immersive to share as much of first life as we do.

    So the hypothesis I reach is that between any two people there exists a set of rules, whether it be explicit or assumed. Conflict arises not when personal boundaries are different, but rather when one or both parties expects the boundaries of the other to be different than they are. That might stem from a lack of agreement, or a failure to abide by an agreement, or sometimes by agreeing to more (or less) than you are really happy to do.

    Harmony is found when each knows the other’s boundaries, and abides by them, so long as those boundaries are mutually acceptable.

  3. Thanks for the great comments! I suppose it isn’t all that different from our first lives but somehow more pronounced because of the different medium. Having clear boundaries makes everything go a little easier. At the end of the day, does the spectrum of personal boundaries *really* matter or is it more that we need to spend our time with people that want similar things?

    I think the distinction of establishing boundaries between friends and relationships is an important one, Chase. We don’t have the same level of interaction with everyone on our friends list.

    I really love, love, love your comment! Thank you! I’m totally interested in what happens when people have huge boundary disconnects too, Sassycat! We usually gravitate toward people with similar frames, but sometimes I wonder what would happen with people that didn’t. Would it simply be an exercise in frustration?

  4. […] for something that people see as inherently dishonest.   If you can guess from my post on the relativity of boundaries, I’m pretty neutral on the issue; I believe that people should be able to approach their […]

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