Do I still have egg on my face?

August 9, 2009


As happens to all of us, my first life has gotten a little busy.  I had great designs on a couple of posts and pretty much have not had the time.  So what’s a blogger to do?  Recycle a really old post!  Cheating, you say?  Given the circumstances of this one, I’m going with no.  Well over a year and a half ago, I did a few guest posts on my dear friend Kit’s now defunct blog, Second Life, First Person.  Don’t try to look for them, she’s taken all of the posts down except for her final goodbye.  Thankfully, one of these posts still seemed relevant after a little updating.  Since most of you probably never saw the original, I’m not too embarrassed to recycle it.  So here goes:

I had an interesting moment while recently chatting with some friends. I was juggling general chat and multiple IM conversations at the same time and — you guessed it — typed a comment intended for one person into general chat. Fortunately, it was a silly remark that I was able to play off pretty easily, but I found myself feeling a bit embarrassed. This got me thinking, how come there seem to be so few truly embarrassing moments in Second Life?

In the atomic world, I am good for at least one embarrassing moment per month. They are usually small “Well, that was stupid!” sorts of things. (We’re not talking anything like the most embarrassing moment in my first life. I can laugh about it now, but was horrified at the time… all I’ll say here is that it involved Chinese food, a conference call, and a colleague’s hotel room.) But how can something that we almost take for granted in the atomic world be that much more rare in the digital world?

Do I embarrass myself with this post? Keep reading after the jump to find out…

Embarrassment in Second Life seems to fall into either the system error and operator error categories. The system error embarrassments tend to be the digital equivalent of realizing you had a piece of spinach caught in your teeth after talking to someone you wanted to impress. You really wish it didn’t happen but it is easy to laugh off.   The operator error embarrassments, however, are the ones that make you wish you had the power to turn back time.

Most of the time system error sorts of things look fine to us, but are completely off to others. A few weeks ago, I was chatting with someone for five minutes before they asked if there was a reason that I was bald (there wasn’t…my hair simply never rezzed!). Or, in Fleep Tuque’s case, unintentionally doing a presentation in SL without pants. Or it could be something like teleporting somewhere only to find a collection of items rezzed on your bottom. Do we feel embarrassed about these things? Sure we do, but we also brush them off and they are explained as things beyond our control.

More interesting to me, however, seems to be how infrequently operator error embarrassments happen. Apart from the very rare occurance of typing in the wrong box and that one time I accidentally offering friendship to a complete stranger in a laggy place (I still don’t quite know how I did THAT one), I don’t think I have embarrassed myself too openly (to my knowledge, of course; people simply might be too polite to tell me). And when I asked a few friends about it, other than some unfortunate group chat incidents, most seemed to think they didn’t embarrass themselves that often, either.

This got me wondering why.  Like most things, there doesn’t seem to be one simple answer. Part of it may be that we have the opportunity to be very deliberate with our Second Lives. Text-based communication tends to require more thought.  Movement is also a much more deliberate act.   But I think that it is due in large part to Second Life itself.  Given the culture of pseudonymity in Second Life, things that might foster self-consciousness in our first lives become commonplace and mundane.  Embarrassment gets tempered because we feel like there are fewer repercussions to us embarrassing ourselves.   Or, put another way, we care less about making an ass of ourselves because most people can’t really identify us.  (Unfortunately, while pseudonymity can diminish embarrassment, the same factors can also result in some negative things, too…but that is another post, I’m afraid.)  For example, the other day I was wearing a cheerleader uniform while shopping without drawing a second glance.  Please tell me, what would you think in the atomic world if you saw a grown woman shopping in a cheerleader outfit not on Halloween?

I’ve really been fortunate that I have not built a lovely collection of moments in Second Life that I would rather take back.  And while we would prefer to avoid being embarrassed, those moments can remind us we are alive and connected to others. Am I wrong here?  Does pseudonymity temper embarrassment in Second Life?  Or do more people get embarssed than I imagine?  I am curious, dear readers, have you embarrassed yourself in Second Life?



  1. Once I said something pretty unkind in open chat that was meant for IM to my partner. I was mortified and actually felt sick to my stomach in RL.

    Other than that I don’t remember too many embarrassing moments in SL. I think pseudonymity has something to do with it for sure.

  2. The worst thing that has happened to me in open chat–though there are a couple of misdirected IMs I would like to take back–was me commenting on the (partially-rezzed) picture of Osama Bin Laden on someone’s t-shirt at a crowded event. When his t-shirt fully rezzed a second or two later, i discovered the picture was of his partner (who fortunately was not there that night)!

    Can I blame that (slow rez) on system error, or should the operator have just kept her mouth shut?

  3. Thanks for the comments. I know that there have been real doozies typed in the wrong box. Mostly I’m thankful that I haven’t slipped up and written anything that would make me feel like I could crawl under a rock and die. Yet.

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