When Social Media becomes a Crutch

by librarianincognita ~ July 24th, 2011. Filed under: Reflections, Virtual Reality.

I have never actively participated in Second Life – I tried it for a course but never got the hang of it (partly because it was not intuitive to me) and it felt like too much of an effort to create another world to live in for yourself. Living in any “world” requires work. You need to spend time to build relationships, you need to understand the rules that govern a place and adapt. I couldn’t understand why anyone would be addicted to Second Life at that time and reading stories of people who found the kind of “acceptance” they could not find in the real word or used it to escape made me wary of such “models” of reality.

Second Life is no longer as popular as it once was but I thought it was a useful place to start thinking about things, simply because it makes such a close attempt to model itself after the physical world; with land that you can buy with real currency and actual businesses having a presence there. The thing that bugged me the most was the claim that it was inclusive and allowed misfits in real life to forge an identity for themselves and to be who they really are. This article here is written by someone who says that “in SL we can not only find the opportunity to fit in but can do so openly and without fear of being treated as outcasts, or of separating ourselves and becoming remote from the world around us“. In some ways, this is a good thing but part of me wonders if it takes them further away from reality because now that they have a place, there is no need for them to work on their social skills in real life. These skills are important – they are the skills that get you a job, allow you to work with your colleagues, interact with people – and to develop them in the virtual world at the expense of the physical world does seem to me to be unhealthy.

Linking this to online identities: Dividing between the personal and professional and presenting two different facades is a matter of choice and I do not have any issues with that but what I think is not healthy is when the online identity becomes a crutch, something people lean on to present the self they would like to imagine themselves as. If this becomes a stepping stone towards them being the person they want to be, that’s good but if it becomes an excuse to avoid the physical world, then it isn’t.

Now that Second Life has fallen out of fashion, I wonder about all these people who found refuge there. What has happened to them.? Do they move themselves to another social media platform? Do they find themselves thrown back into real life and disliking the world they live in even more? I do not see Facebook to be all consuming the way Second Life is – it does not try to create for you a “second life” but I have known people who were really unpleasant in real life but amazingly friendly and thoughtful in the virtual world. How not to be when there are birthday reminders? Being thoughtful has suddenly become a lot easier.

Additional Note: This post is a little late – just slightly past the deadline for it but as they say, better late than never.

2 Responses to When Social Media becomes a Crutch

  1.   JSBlagsman

    Great post – “All-consuming” virtual worlds like Second Life have been around in some form for decades actually – I recall spending WAY too much time on certain Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing games (MMORPGs) back in 1998 when many were still text-based. I had just moved to a new town and was having trouble making new friends so I logged on to explore dungeons with my old friends online. I credit skateboarding with weaning me of that crutch.

    The immersion gained is a real factor and I know it is easy to lose oneself in these environments, especially if the real-world is perpetually unsatisfying, and easier to pour time and development into the custom, ideal and “constructed identity” – why be the lowly office drone when you could be Gaffgarion, Dwarven Avenger?. The fact that Albrechtslund and others regard this escapism as building ‘subjectivity’ and as unequivocally healthy, because it is widely utilized, is very problematic.

    While Second Life might fall out of fashion there are always alternative virtual spaces for escape and fantasy. I think it says a lot about the unjust and unsatisfying lifeworld available to many right now. So, a lot like drug-use, it’s not a question of the media itself being the crutch but why many folks feel the need to lean on it and the social conditions that make it look so desirable.

  2.   librarianincognita

    Oh yes! I remember those MMORPGS but for some reason, I was never good at them. There is also World of Warcraft – I know so many people who spend way too much time on it. I guess I picked Second Life because it has the appeal of a game with the pretense of reality.

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