When Second Life anonymity bumps into reality

I signed up for Second Life in June last year and, thanks to a pair of poorly performing computers, didn’t take it far because I was too irritated by the process.

I cranked up the performance of both machines and really got stuck in over the Christmas period, first of all meandering around as someone who looked like a fitter version of me. Then I wanted to be less threatening (big, bearded, old) etc, so I changed sex and made myself look like a modest young woman.

This was all fine, apart from when I was being propositioned, until I started chatting with someone while I was lounging in an armchair on the stage at Cisco’s amphitheatre. He walked up to the stage and we exchanged pleasantries. Then it turned out we were both into social computing, both providing services to Cisco and he mentioned that his web address was in his profile. I clicked and it turned out we had met in real life.

What if the conversation had taken a different tack?

What if he’d propositioned me?

How would that have made me feel?

Worse, how would it have made him feel?

Obviously I can head that sort of behaviour off at the pass, but it does trouble me deeply that I – someone who is normally open and honest – had actually created a situation through my deceptive appearance where people could be lured into behaviours they would certainly not adopt had they known who was behind the avatar.

Yet, my non-threatening appearance encourages friendly conversation and leads to insights that I might not arrive at were I to say, up front, "Hi, I’m really a male journalist". Until the meeting with someone I knew, I was fairly relaxed about my pose. And, it has to be said, having fun. After that meeting, the deceptive aspect bothered me a lot.

I am researching Second Life to discover whether it has a practical business value. Maybe, after this stage of my participation, I’ll revert to the real me.

But you can be sure that other people in Second Life are setting out to deceive quite deliberately.

Anyone want to share their thoughts on the issue?

Why do the press use surnames?

I was running a media skills course last week when I was asked a question which I’d never been asked before: “why does the press refer to people by their surname?”

My initial, feeble but truthful, answer was “it’s house-style. All papers have a house-style and it is usually that you use the full name on the first outing and the surname only after that.”

Feeling that this was ducking the question, I added, “I suspect this is because it preserves our journalistic neutrality. We can hardly say ‘John murdered someone’.”

Long after I got back to the office, I thought of exceptions to this approach. Saying, “Jones was murdered”, when it’s fresh news would be heartless. It would have to be “Mrs Jones…” or “baby John…”.

I guess that whether we deviate boils down to common sense.

Maybe the origins lie in saving lead or typesetter’s time. Anyone know?