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Aug 17, 2007



Just to comment on myself. With kids we have the specific issue that parents have been scared into not letting them out to freely from the kinds of relationship that many of us would have done. So the position is not one relative to an idea but one where there are degrees of possible isolation that having access to people through a range of ICTs goes some way to help.

It also leads to cyber-bullying, but no technology is 100% one way or another ethically.


If I were arguing her case, here's how I might do it:

1. The real world takes primacy -- it is the only one that matters.
2. Virtual worlds distract those who participate in them from the real world.
2.1. Because they are interactive, this distraction is stronger than that found in passive media such as books, movies, television, etc.
3. Therefore virtual worlds detract from real world society by drawing people away from real world society and thus are negative influence.
3.1. If it were not for her time on Second Life or World of Warcraft, Jane Doe would be spending time volunteering at the local soup kitchen or similarly doing good in the real world.
3.2. Virtual worlds reinforce the popular culture drive for self-satisfaction and self-realization above all other goals; users of virtual worlds cease to see other human beings as human, but instead perceive them as tools to maximize their own pleasure/goals/desires.
3.3. In the long run they take the focus from real, embodied humanity and elevate mental over the physical, to the extent that physical is no longer seen as necessary or even desirable. See Kurzweil's writings on the merging of man and machine for prognostication to this effect.


I'd be interested in hearing how the debate plays out. Will BBC 4 have a web cast or audio available for download after the interview?

Good luck!


Thx, it's on the World Tonight which I think is streamed, podcast and archived - this is the BBC.


I wonder if she may use research on real-life long distance relationships to help argue her point (where couples interact through technology and often don't see each other physically for long periods of time, if ever). It strikes me that there must be some parallels here, particularly in the key area of the 'yuckiness' of physicality compared to virtual sex over webcams and so on.


There would seem to be some sort of suggestion that any form of contact that is not 100% physical and 100% realtime is going to lead to the destruction of the human race?
There are a full range of attitudes to any sort of relationship or contact. The primary driving force would have to be one of procreation. Despite all the science the majority of people feel the need to have children and our biology dictates that.
How anyone gets to that point, due to reaching a depth of relationship with another should really not worry anyone. In a way it has all come full circle.
If you consider the sort of matchmaking and letter writing of your average victorian melodrama it was all very much about keeping distance, that is compared to the up close and personal nature of clubs and 'discos' that replaced that. Now we may be back to people keeping their distance but enagaging in deeper relationships.
As Patrick has pointed out people have long distance fulfilling relationships, if virtual worlds can bring people closer emotionally when they cant be close physically then it has a positive effect?


I wouldn't say that having an in-line identity (the created persona, not just an avatar to represent yourself in metaverse) means hiding, deceiving or fakeing. Sure, one can (ab)use virtual environment for that purpose, but, in most cases, that is not "having virtual identity". It is driving a random avatar.

Creating real on-line persona is a proces more serious than that. It doesn't matter if the face of the avie looks like one's RL face, nor if skin color, gender and everything else resembles RL human. Creating a persona is introspective process, whether we are aware of that or not. In each of us there is more than is shown by our RL bodies and behaviour. Virtual worlds are promising environments to come in touch with parts of us we never met before.

It scares me in one way, and fascinates me in another, in wondering where it will take people. What impact does having a false identity have on your real identity?

It has many impacts (assuming that "false identity" is red like "identity in virtual world"). It is not just that one can find self surprised with emotions that originate from the virtual world. One gets to know oneself much better, getting in situations which are not likely or even impossible in RL. One feels free to experiment, and to try different ways of behaviour. Some of them will be rejected, some could stay. Even having an avatar as close to RL self as it is possible, there is a situation of different perspective. In RL we look the world from our eyes. In VW, we look our avatar from the back, from the outside. That "look from the outside" can shed some new light on ourselves.


When will the debate be broadcast? I looked at the R4 schedule annd I couldn't see it. Thanks!


“Baroness Greenfield wondered whether people who inhabited virtual worlds would come to regard real-life sexual relationships with some queasiness.”

I have seen online worlds break up relationships, but not out of queasiness. It usually ends up being rooted in a dissatisfaction with your partner while being exposed to other people. When online worlds break up relationships, usually, another real-world relationship is born -- from the pairing in the online world.

In fact, one of the true beauties of meeting people in an online setting is that people are freed from the constraints of location and the bigotry of initial appearance. The internet makes it easier to find someone like you. As an extreme example, imagine that you're an introverted Gorean - how hard is it for you to find a potential partner in Topeka? It's trivial in Second Life.

It’s interesting though that Second Life is admitted to be ‘real’ but only “two dimensional”.

This just strikes me as silly. While they may not be the same dimensions, relationships in online environments tend to be very deep and complex: the anonymity, the ease that one can 'disappear', the tension over personal appearance and other 'truths' and the high cost (plane tickets, etc) of taking a chance and meeting a potential soulmate add a ton of texture to an online relationship that just isn't there for someone you meet at the corner bar.


At least my counter argument is that there really is not anything new under the sun as far as this thing goes. People have been getting hot and heavy in "virtual" relationships since the beginning of organized postal systems. With over 20 years of people initiating relationships in online communities, and developing those relationship though gatherings, munches, picnics, and face-to-face meetings, the argument that Second Life is some new threat to human relationships in unpersuasive.

In addition, online communities have provided a safe place for people who face discrimination and marginalization to discover fellowship. As an example for many LGBT youth online communities are the only way they can get support. (And yes, I am suggesting here that Second Life be seen as part of a 20+ year tradition of online communities, rather than something that emerged suddenly as a radically new beast.


Oh, this might be worth looking up:

Fernback, J. (1999). There is a there there: Notes toward a definition of cybercommunity. In S. Jones (Ed.), Doing internet research, critical issues and methods for examining the net(pp. 203–220). Thousand Oakes, CA: Sage.

Fernback argues that people engage in the same social process as members of online communities as they do in f2f communities. As a result, online relationships shouldn't be viewed as just a form of gamed roleplay.


I find it all a matter of degrees. The same distinction argued between real vs virtual can also be argued using just the real world.

I would say that each of us has different personalities and adopt our behavior to the environment around us. The way I behave at work, isn't the way I behave at home, nor is the way I behave at a bar/nightclub. And with each environment you may take risks, like a nightclub you can go experiment with various people if you so care to do so, and since this is your first/only visit you can do it in complete anonyomity.

As far as difference in relationships, I find that odd as well since in real life you have the same situation, i.e. try to dating someone at work vs someone across the country. Doesn't even have to be dating, just get a traveling job where you home part of the time and on the road the rest and see yourself how the relationship changes when your together vs apart. So does distance make the relationship more/less important?


wow thanks everyone, debate recorded in an hour so I'm heading out.


see my feed for 'live' updates: http://twitter.com/RenZephyr


Done, thanks everyone, check out the twitter feed for a laugh and the inside story of the interview, i'll post up a link when it's online


LOL ! Very nice and funny , indeed :). I want the link pretty please ....so far all i can see there are ( baronesse's ?! ) tits.


Blimey, I actually think I did OK. Thanks again everyone.


I think you did fine Ren. I imagine its tough to balance the ideas you want to get across, with the knowledge that some of them are quite novel and alien to your audience. And all in a few brief minutes.

I’d agree with much of what dandelion says. There is something about the word “virtual” that makes people go all critical on practices they perform without notice in the physical world. Like dandelion, I was struck by the Baroness’s comment on hiding behind avatars. Sure we can use them to modify our appearance, and present a new (false?) image of ourselves. But it’s only a technological amplification of the conscious image manipulation we do with clothing, hairstyles etc. in the physical world. Putting it in a virtual context makes the practice look novel though, and people question it for the first time.

If virtual relationships do cause people to question some of their practices in everyday relationships, it might lead to healthier relationships overall. For that though, they would need to see their virtual self as a valid extension of their everyday self. And recognize how much “roleplaying” they do every day, even withut the prop of an avatar.


Indeed the problem was trying to make a 'popular' argument based on research and good theory but without dropping into that.

Also I think that in the public debate we need to take on board the fact that like all technologies Virtual Worlds can be abused either as a prop or as a weapon (in cyber stalking etc) that seems inherent to technologies in general, and we can potentially do things to help.

I don't think it got on air, but at one point I asked if the Baroness wore different clothes at home from in the office - and, pointedly, why? And which was her 'real' self.


Well again, I'm struck by the fact that this is nothing new, and many of these issues are at the center of Rostand's play Cyrano de Bergerac which still is fresh after over a century. Victorian cryptographers made a hobby out of decoding the torrid love affairs that took place using simple ciphers though the classifieds section. Edgar Alan Poe at the end of his life was carrying on virtual relationships with multiple women, sometimes plagiarizing himself in his letters to them.

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