Though we have bodies, movement, and ways to express ourselves in Second Life, it’s still possible for misunderstandings to occur.
If you look at my avatar, I seem to have it all together. I use a fairly dignified AO, and am usually dressed all right. In real life, however, I could be crying or running from room to room. I could be standing on my head and singing Battle Hymn of the Republic. If I stopped long enough to type a sentence now and then, no one in SL would be the wiser.
Even in first life we can hide what we’re feeling. How many people at work have wanted to punch a boss but instead nodded seriously and said “Yes, sir” instead? In social situations we often smile and act gracious when we really want to take a nap. It’s even easier to hide in the virtual world.
If we’re close friends with a person in Second Life we can often read them without seeing their facial expression or hearing a tone of voice. We can tell by their text, by the way they stand, and we get familiar with what is normal for them. If they deviate from their usual behavior we see it – and some of us are better at noticing than others.
Being able to read people is a mixed blessing. Those who do not notice disdain, pick up on sarcasm, or read between the lines can actually be happier than people who do. Knowing what’s really going on can be a positive thing, but if you’re sensitive it can also be a curse. Think about it. If you could read minds would you really want to? What if people thought you were ugly or that you acted stupid? Do you really want to know?
I pick up on things. I am an observer of behavior and habits, and tend to see in both practical and spiritual ways. I usually know when people are lying, when female avatars are controlled by men, or when someone secretly fancies a person. I know if another person likes me or if they prefer I drop dead.
And yet, I have let my guard down. There have been times I’ve been so comfortable that I’ve missed it. Once I was DJ-ing and what I interpreted as banter was actually someone getting offended. I didn’t recognize immediately because I was projecting my own feelings onto the topic. Also, I am so used to friends teasing that it’s easy to forget that even those who banter can occasionally take things wrong or say something not-so-nice. We are, after all, human.
Miscommunication is bound to happen in Second Life. It happens in first life where we see facial expressions and hear a tone of voice, so how much more in a virtual world? If a misunderstanding occurs (and it will at some point) we have to figure out the best way to deal with it. This can be challenging, but if we do our best to make things right, that’s all we can do. We shouldn’t stress out after that.