July 9th, 2011

Social Conventions, Concrete versus Virtual

I want to know why people think that common courtesy is not a requirement in virtual worlds.

Any one of us could recite a litany of situations where others have behaved in ways that they wouldn't dream of doing in concrete life. So why do they abandon social convention when their minds journey into virtual space?

It doesn't take a lot to figure out why some would be rude and crude on, say, message boards - the anonymity factor is a lot higher there and it's only words facing words. But in a virtual world, you have an avatar, and for all intents and purposes, that is a 3-dimensional graphic representation of you, a very real person. You can't exactly escape the 3D face-to-face in virtual worlds. Even if your 3D face is a great departure from your concrete world visage, you still very much have the sense of meeting the person "in the flesh". It speaks a lot about how much importance we put into the 3-dimensional to define ourselves as people.

Does group chat seem to reintroduce that heightened sense of anonymity? After all, all you have to do is look up that person's profile. If they have a business, you can go there, and sooner or later you will be facing their 3D self. I happen to think group chat is like a party line phone conversation between neighbors who could easily run into other participants at the local grocery store or gas station.

When I tell people that "what they see is what they get", I mean that in a very literal sense. My ways of interacting with others are truly no different in the virtual than in the concrete, or even further, in the Internet or on the phone, by letter, or any of the other myriad communication venues we all have. I have ethics in person; you see those ethics in my communications elsewhere. I have a sense of propriety and public courtesy in person and the same is reflected elsewhere. I am blunt, to the point, and not politically correct - and these things are likewise reflected elsewhere. It's this last set of characteristics that often alienate people, but I won't change them. They represent my authenticity.

So why is it that some people behave very badly in other venues of interaction and communication, especially virtual worlds? I think it's a fundamental "disconnect" between the persona they've crafted to present to the concrete world versus how they really are, inside. This would imply that they are not very nice people to most, but it can also imply that virtual world interaction strips away the defenses that keep their insecurities and worst fears from surfacing in the concrete.

Are you authentic no matter where you go, or do you find yourself being very different in the concrete versus the virtual? Why do you think some behave in "barbaric" ways in the virtual, doing things they wouldn't dare do in the concrete?

STOP IT. Just stop it, all of you.


  1. Unsolicited communications are spam. Period. It is, and always has been, against Netiquette to "harvest" names from a group of ANY SORT and spam them. Virtual world groups are no exception.

  2. I don't care WHAT you do or say, especially if you're polite about it - that does not mean it's OK to abuse you, call you names, or swear at you. Nobody "earns" abuse.

  3. There are only a few true authority figures in any group - the owner(s) and the moderator(s). If you take it upon yourself to act like an authority out of some notion of superiority, be prepared to be put in your place by the owners or moderators. This may happen publically to make an example for all.

  4. The larger a group is, the more you will see a hierarchical "pecking order" amongst its members and the formation of one or more cliques. It is adviseable to nip this in the bud as soon as you perceive it or it will get way out of hand, and then the cliques will be running your group and not you.

  5. If you ask someone to be a moderator for you and they get into a sticky situation, think twice before ejecting them. Talk to them, yes. Give them suggestions for handling it differently, yes. Eject them? Not unless it is clear as glass that they overstepped themselves. After all, you thought enough of this person to ask them to take a generally unwanted and abused position in the first place.