Wednesday, March 12, 2008

SLex, trust and emoticons. Part 1

Before I get into what sucks most about being an avatar, let's reflect upon what rocks about it compared to mere flesh and blood. Most of the advantages of SL are related to the elimination of the constraints of time, distance and physicality:
  • We can teleport instantly across any distance and fly over any obstacle.
  • In a matter of moments we can change our clothes, shape, skin, gender and even species.
  • We can meet, fall in love with, fuck, partner, grow tired of and finally abandon people from all over the world, all in one day. (Okay, slight exaggeration.)
The problem is that communicating in SL is like playing a Mozart string quartet on a tin whistle. Sure, it can sound pretty, but 90% of the content is missing.

Mere words account for a fraction of meaningful content in face-to-face human communication. According to one researcher:
  • 7% happens in spoken words.
  • 38% happens through voice tone.
  • 55% happens via general body language.
The problem isn't only that we have just a bit-mapped palette to express a sunset. The other side of the virtual coin is that we try to replace the largely subconscious cues of body language, shifts in tonality, eye-contact, breath rate, etc. with intentional signals such as emoticons, lol's, animations, gestures, /me statements and emote HUDs.

The intentionality factor has a lot to do with the problem of trust in SL. Gone are the unconscious communication channels that are more genuine than words. If two people talk face to face, and one person fakes a laugh, it's easy to spot. How can you discern a bogus :) ? You can't.

That's all for now. More to come.


Kanomi said...

I joke around and tease people a lot so I tend to use smilies more than I otherwise might...which makes me come across as some sort of emoticonophile or something.

Another problem I have is I use the ^^ a lot which has different shades of meaning in different internet subcultures, and which probably now that I think about it may leave a lot of non-nerds utterly baffled, since it rarely appears in the more popular lists of standard smilies.


Botgirl Questi said...

Here are some emoticon dictionaries. Can find ^^ though.