Thursday, July 31, 2008

Back in the love box with AIR-based relationships

Based on feedback from digado and Rheta, it seems I didn’t do a very good job of tying together the various threads within yesterday’s post. One reason is that it was written as a stream of consciousness rather than a reasoned argument leading to a previously formed conclusion. I made a few big leaps between ideas without taking the time to walk through the chain of connections. Maybe my textual communications skills have become corrupted by too much comic creation. Anyway, I'll have another go at clarifying yesterday’s missive by answering some of digado's thoughtful questions:
How did immersion get dragged into these relationships?
I'm not dragging it in by iteslf. I came up with the snappy acronym and catch phrase “AIR-based relationships” to define the area of my inquiry. AIR = Anonymous identity + Immersive environment + Romantic attraction. It seem to me that the combination of these three factors creates an especially unstable and volatile mix.
When not 'immersed' you wouldn't have the relationship either, is that what you are saying, or does immersion create these relationships...?
Well, it seems to me that if you weren't immersed, you'd be more conscious of the fact that the hot babe you were flirting with could quite possibly be someone who looks like your grandfather in real life. Humans exposed to attractive images of their preferred gender(s) can experience reflex physiological responses that flood the brain and body with hormones that act like a love drug. I've written about this process in the past. If everyone walked around in a Naruto avatar, I reckon there would be far fewer romances.
People created 'virtual' relationships long before 'worlds' such as SL over the internet, with or without immersion
Well, I would say that if you are focused on a text chat enough to get romantically attached to someone, the text chat environment is immersive for you, and your online affair would be an AIR-based relationship. At least until you traded real IDs and/or met in person.
I'm still trying to get my head around that last paragraph tho, I'm sure it makes sense in some way - I just don't see it...
Well, at least forelle saw it. :) What I tried to convey in the last paragraph was that the person you are in a relationship with is a complex living being with vast potential for growth and change. So if your love requires that they don't externally express significant inner changes, then it is a love of an objectification of your lover's past state, not of who they are now. From my limited experience, it seems there is generally less slack for change in AIR-based relationships.

Well, I'm out of juice for now. If any of my ideas still seem cryptic, please let me know and I'll give it another go.


Forelle Broek said...

"From my limited experience, it seems there is generally less slack for change in AIR-based relationships."

That would be my starting hypothesis (or at least initial hunch) too. The AIR (I like that acronym, both because it is clever and because the spelled-out version is usefully descriptive) environment seems more conducive to objectification (my thinking in this regard is strongly influenced by feminist and other critical work on mass media and objectification).

So, another interesting question might be -- under what circumstances do people move past objectification in the AIR context, and how might virtual environments be developed to enhance those circumstances?

On the "immersion" issue (and BotGirl's nice quip about the hot avie whose typist looks like your grandpa -- *shudder*), I think there is some useful insight to be gained from Georg Simmel's explorations of reciprocal knowledge and secrets as constitutive elements of social relationships.

Anonymous said...

I love the new terminology of "AIR-based relationship". Like any piece of truly helpful jargon, it is catchy precisely because it is loaded with meaning, expressing complex chains of ideas in a single phrase. I believe that this will quickly enter into the SL collective consciousness and be brought to widespread use.

I do have a question about one of your observations. Referring to the the qualifiers for an AIR-based relationship, you state: "It seems to me that the combination of these three factors creates an especially unstable and volatile mix." While I don't necessarily disagree, I wonder if you are also suggesting that non-immersive relationships (those where RL is transparently shared) are somehow more stable and less fraught with peril? If indeed that is what you are saying, I don't think I can agree.

Except in the comparatively rare occasions where two single, seeking people connect in RL through meeting in SL, it seems to me that crossing the RL line more frequently ends in disaster. I know so many people who have endangered their RL marriages and families because they let a SL relationship cross over. Now whether people in committed RL relationships should be seeking SL romance in the first place is beside the point. The point is that as long as things stay AIR-based, at least the inevitable damage is constrained to the virtual realm. Cross the line, and the carnage becomes real.

Digado said...

Okay, you clarified some points, but in principle I still don't see the real connection, in fact, I still don't think there is one as you try to make it out to be:

"AIR = Anonymous identity + Immersive environment + Romantic attraction"


"Well, it seems to me that if you weren't immersed, you'd be more conscious of the fact that the hot babe you were flirting with could quite possibly be someone who looks like your grandfather in real life."

Now, obviously there is a big flaw here, as these relationships persist through periods of non-immersion as well, the moments you could go through what you described as 'flirting with your grandfather'. So its not the immersion that breaks it at all. Furthermore, the three elements might sound poetic and make a neat little word, but they don't mix all that well in the context you are using them, Immersion being the odd one out once again, because from what I know of romance - if you like how the person makes you feel (lets just simplify 'romance' to be that for the moment) how does the 'think it looks like your grandpa' matter? I mean, if the relationship is based on the visual aspect rather than the social one, its really not that romantic at all is it. And last time i checked 'flirting' with a pretty picture wasn't exactly called 'immersing' either.

In fact, I think the AIR thing is the exact same meme i was talking about and I'll illustrate with a post I dug up:

Now Nr 1 and 2 are just social factors of human to human interaction, the way we are wired when interacting, but these two happen to be better facilitated in some aspects inside virtual environments (the anonymity is big here obviously). Then the 3rd reason 'seals the deal' being simple latent human desire. (Its a completely different study how well immersion allows humans to satisfy needs). This is why I said immersion feels like the red herring to me. Perhaps immersion plays a small part in creating/maintaining these relationships, perhaps you are more confident and less self aware while immersed which makes these social interactions easier, but all in all, I remain convinced it's really a lot more simple than that :)

Thank you for the 'ping' in the other comments by the way ;) Ashamed to say I found your post again through my technorati feed for 'immersion' but you are bookmarked now!

Botgirl Questi said...

forelle: I like your question about looking into how some people manage to move past the objectification. I'll check out the Georg Simmel reference.

night: It's hard to write without either falling into generalizations on the one hand, or softening the ideas so much that they lose meaning. So I agree that there are RL relationships that are volatile and SL relationships that are stable. That said, I think the factors I've mentioned here and over the course of a number of posts point of factors that make AIR relationships challenging outside of all the other stuff that is common to any romantic relationship.

digado: First, everything in my comment to night is relevant to your comment. Outside of that, if I'm hearing you right, you are saying there is are no signfificant psychological factors related to an immersive experience that impacts relationships? Is that an accurate reflection of your thinking?

Digado said...

"...I'm hearing you right, you are saying there is are no signfificant psychological factors related to an immersive experience that impacts relationships"

Not compared to those that have nothing to do with immersion, no. I mean, what exactly is the suspension of disbelief in these relations? The character, the match of visuals and character, the situation, the (social) environment, your own ability/self awareness? Are you immersed into a romantic affair with a virtual being or just interacting as humans through avatars, both well aware you are sharing a social experience?

I don't see where the immersion kicks in as a relevant factor for love/relationships/romance versus the more common basic social interaction of humans in any condition, just outed in virtuality rather than physical reality, and the contradictions in the 'AIR' theory doesn't really work out unless you can explain persistent relations through periods of non-immersion for starters.

Botgirl Questi said...

digado: Maybe there are some things you don't know about romance. ;)

What I mean is that the psychological and biological response to AIR-based interactions I've described is not experienced by everyone. So if you haven't felt it yourself, it is not surprising that you are skeptical.

I think a good analogy is an audience watching a horror film. Some members of the audience sit there with a smirk on their face. Others have varying degrees of physical and emotional reaction. A few may be so upset that they feel afraid long after the lights come up.

Clearly, the sensory imput of the sights, sounds and story have an impact on some part of the audience. And the immersive qualities of the experience have something to do with the reaction. (That's why the experience of watching a movie on a big screen is very different than watching it on a 13" laptop.)

I'm guessing this example won't sway your opinion, so maybe we can just disagree on this for the time being. In any case, I appreciate your thoughts and the time you've taken to add to the conversation here.

Digado said...

Well i guess it comes down to circling the wagons in this manner again - 'obviously if you haven't experienced it you will not understand it' - I'm really not impressed with that 'defense'. Its not about what I know or understand really, I was hoping you could provide some insights in how you think immersion affects these relationships but you haven't been doing that...

But it does fall in line with whats been said so far. It creates the ultimate meme (you have to be in to know) to justify behavior within a certain crowd rather then to interpret human behavior as actual human behavior which could potentially be painful - there is always the 'magic of immersion' to add to the formula and pretend things are 'blurry' :)

Botgirl Questi said...

digado: I apologize for the less-than-respectful tone of my earlier responses to your comments. Upon reflection, I realized that the source of the frustration I ended up projecting at you was actually my own lack of clarity on this stuff.

Please bear with me. I hope to have a more refined expression of what's behind the AIR idea soon. Then if we end up disagreeing, it will at least be about the same thing.