Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Minding My Own Business

Written 1 December, 2006

Minding My Own Business

Privacy is an issue in Second Life, where just about anyone can pop up just about anywhere at just about any time.

Early in my SL career I learned a couple of hard lessons about privacy.

I’m not talking about living in a chalet that’s all windows and having a friend show up outside the glass a minute or so after I log in for the day, while I’m in a state of undress, deciding upon my outfit for the day (and yes, that really happened).

No, I’m talking about my own behavior. I found myself in two highly embarrassing situations because I disregarded the rules of propriety.

Dropping In

In my first days in SL, I met and struck up acquaintances with a lot of people. Some of them have become dear friends. I’ve lost contact with others as we have gone our separate ways. It has taken a while to sort them all out.

And one new friend, I discovered the hard way, was into Lolies-- that’s short for Lolita, from Vladimir Nakobov’s novel-- and Stanley Kubrick’s film of the same name. Humbert Humbert’s Lolita, however, was post-pubescent. Some of the SL Lolies aren’t-- as I was to discover.

It was the first and only time I ever just dropped in on a friend. I was learning how to use the map and I searched for him because, well, I had to enter someone’s name, and I hadn’t seen him for a few days. I found him on the map, doubled clicked on the dot that marked his location, and TPd in on him. I’d no idea double clicking would do that. I assumed it would just open a TP box.

I materialized in a meadow where my friend was talking to what appeared to be a four-year-old girl with a giant lolipop. While my friend stood silently by-- consumed, I’m certain, by horrified embarrassment-- the Loli began to aggressively bump my avatar while speaking aggressively in pseudo four-year-old speech, saying things like “I don’t see my nanny. I killded her three times.” For lack of anything else to say, I replied that I understood, it had been necessary for me to do away with several of my own nannies. But I was sensing that I was interacting with a forty-six-year-old bald guy who was probably smoking a cigar while wearing Mary Jane shoes. In Chat, I said, “Uh, am I interrupting something?” I simultaneously IMed my friend and said, “Sorry to intrude. This is just too close to pedophilia to be comfortable for me,” and teleported out. I immediately received a message from him telling me not to contact him again. “No problem,” I said, and unfriended him.

The issue of Lolies in SL is a contentious one. There are no minor children legally on the main grid, of course-- but what, if anything, does it mean when the avatars of adults are sexually promiscuous children, or even infants? I’m not sure anyone knows, but I will say the experience made me most uncomfortable. I was embarrassed for intruding without permission or warning on what was obviously a consensual meeting between two adults, and uncomfortable with the implications of that same meeting.

Peeping Thomasina

I was equally-- no, even more-- culpable in the second instance.

It was my second week in SL, and my good friend Pam Havercamp had taken me to look for land. She showed me how to find land for sale on the map; when we found some parcels available near her home in Lion Sands, we teleported there.

I was looking for land with a western view of the ocean, as I had come to revel in the sunsets at Pam and Bill’s chalet. The parcels Pam had spotted were on the water, two small islands and an isthmus-- delightful properties-- but there was a McMansion on a big lot adjacent, and something about it bothered Pam. Being new, I didn’t quite understand her explanation, but I did understand she thought they might not be good neighbors.

Later that day, I took my friend Kal to get his opinion about the land. As he was exploring the islands, I IMed him to say I was going to fly over and check out the house that had bothered Pam.

When I got there, I flew to the first floor window and peered in; the house was nicely furnished and decorated.

It was when I peered in the second floor window that I got the shock of my life. Across the room, on the bed, two avatars, one male and one female, were having intercourse, doggie style, grinding away.

I hit the down arrow key immediately, sending my av speeding away, not stopping until I was far out over the ocean. Then I consulted my map. There were four avatars in the vicinity, myself, Kal, and two others literally on top of one another. I had interrupted two human beings in an act of consensual lovemaking-- and on their own property and in their own house, where they had every right to expect privacy!

I know they saw me, too, for a privacy fence immediately went up!

What It Means

Why, just because I’m in SL, do I find myself re-learning the basics of human propriety and good manners? Is it because I think, on some level, it’s a game? No. I take SL quite seriously. Is it because I think the rules of proper behavior are different in SL, as are the laws of physics? No, good manners are good manners, and are transportable across consensual realities. Is it the unfamiliarity of it all? Perhaps. Or is it  because it’s a virtual reality, it’s just so easy to abandon proper etiquette? Perhaps that most of all. I know people engage in behaviors in SL they would never dream of doing in RL. They become exotic dancers, or prostitutes, or furries, or Lolies.

Me, I’m just trying to have a fabulous second life. Perhaps part of building that life is making mistakes. Hopefully, I will learn from them.


Photo: Chey, in Halloween costume, and her friend Melissa Yeuxdoux, at Arwen's Cottage, which is fortunately open to exploration.

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