Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Soft Day

Fog settles low
enfolding the rawness
of newly formed wounds

The branches of autumn trees,
laid bare
and braving the season’s new chill
Leaves yellow, crumple,
fall to the ground,
wetly melt into the earth.

A soft day,
until the sun pushes through
a burning glare
stripping away the blankets,
here to heal
to reveal some possible truth
to keep the slashed hillside from staying
mired in the fog

© 2007 Roisin Hotaling

(Inspired by events in SL, and by a RL trip to the coast to process them)

Monday, October 8, 2007

The Big Reveal

You choose a name. It might be similar to your real name, or it might not. You create an avatar. He or she might look a lot like your real self, or might not. You begin to make friends in SL, people whose real names you don’t know. Unless you’re completely immersed in role play, you probably tell them a lot about your real life: your family, your work, where you live. Eventually you might tell them your real first name.

If you are trying to keep your real identity under wraps you may think just providing your first name is safe; but if you’ve provided enough other information, it may not be too difficult for a resourceful person to find you in cyberspace. Adam gave me his real name, email address, and website address quite readily. As a woman, I was more cautious—or so I thought. Adam knew my city, and what I do in RL. After I told him my real first name, I realized that he might have everything he needed to find me in RL. I did a quick search with Google using my first name, what I design, and my city: lo and behold, there I was.

Sparky did something similar. He told me his first name. He had also posted a link to a website in his SL profile. On that website is an email link to contact the webmaster—whose first name is the same one Sparky gave me. He verified that I had found him; we had developed some trust by then, so it wasn’t a problem. But just knowing his name and city allowed me to find quite a few references to his work, and—the most unnerving of all—his home address and phone number.

There are myriad other ways you might provide enough personal data to reveal your RL identity. It didn’t even cross my mind, when I emailed my friend Jet a document written in Word, that the file info for that document had my real name in it—because when you set up those programs on your computer, they ask for that information and add it to every file you create, unless you make sure that setting is turned off. Never mind that Roisin has an email account separate from her typist, set up to protect her identity; the attached document gave me away.

Of course, those are accidental reveals; but you might want to exchange RL information with an SL friend deliberately. At what point do you make that decision? How much in-world chatting is enough to feel safe telling someone your real name? And then do you take the SL-to-RL crossover to phone numbers, MySpace, business websites, exchanging photos of your RL self, webcams, even meeting in RL?

Since I try to keep a membrane between SL and RL, I don’t intentionally give out RL info too readily. Oh, sure, there’s a photo of my RL self in my SL house, but to me that’s fairly harmless. And with Sparky and Jet, I have an understanding that any personal information we have shared or discovered is strictly to satisfy our curiosity; our friendships remain confined to SL and MSN. While we can use MSN to hear each other’s voices or see each other via webcam, we do so sparingly.

That’s not to say that I’ve never become RL friends with someone I met online; I met one of my closest RL friends in an online birding chat room some 14 years ago. And if I found myself in the towns where some of my SL friends live, we might meet at a RL coffee house. But I have no travel plans.