I can’t help thinking of this as I sit on my couch at home and simultaneously sit on one in Second Life, watching the Australian Grand Prix with Jakob.
That’s our virtual living room. It doesn’t make sense to try to stream the race in SL — our real televisions look much better and provide commentary in our respective native languages — but I pull the ESPN website live coverage into a “TV” above our fireplace. See the clocks over the loveseat? We have one for SL time, one for my time zone, and one for Jakob’s. The collage on the wall has photos we’ve taken offline, but there are some online photos on the fireplace mantel.
Since our virtual lives are extensions of our offline lives, blending the worlds is normal for us. There is no hard line between the two. Others make a sharp distinction between “fantasy” and “reality”; it’s exciting that we have spaces now where we can do that. That’s not my style at this point, though. Virtual life is more effortless and easier to control, with some added features and some removed, but it’s part of the overall thing I call my life.
Blending virtual and real was a gradual process for us. Something I’d love to study is the delicate negotiation that some people do when they meet anonymously online and then begin to disclose personal details. It took months for Jakob and I to share our real names and more precise locations. He was practical when I wondered about personal details, responding with, “Does it matter?” Often, once I thought about it, the answer was, no, not at all. He doesn’t like to talk about himself and he tells me it’s boring. I didn’t know his age until a couple years after we met, though my guess from his musical tastes and some dates in his stories wasn’t far off. It just didn’t matter.
I should interject at this point that when I started collecting data on SL profiles for a research project, I was surprised by how many of them had (what they claimed to be) first life personal details. Sometimes the details were small and still anonymous, a time zone or country and a sex. Often a sexual preference or gender identification was listed. The percentage that disclosed more details — city, marital status, age, profession, number of children, photos, and even name — was unexpected.
Jakob has wanted to find a project we could do together for a while, but it was a challenge to find something that fit our skill sets and time. Now, finally, we’re almost ready to open our little in-world art gallery. It mixes both worlds as well: I’m the interior designer and curator of the virtual gallery, but the art consists of his photographs from the physical world. I’ll confess, this is more important to both of us now that he is sick. You can be sure I’ll write more when it’s complete.