What we have here is a failure to communicate

Had the strangest experience in-world today. I was going to go shoe-shopping (yes!) with my friend and classmate Shailey – after the Shoe Expo, I have some new favorite vendors, and we need to get gussied up for the upcoming last day of class.

So we met this morning as planned. I actually signed on about an hour earlier, as I had to fulfill my compulsion to create a new outfit – I haven’t done so in over two weeks, and usually I make at least one a week. (Ooh, it hurts my soul just to think of the lost time…)

Anyway, Shailey greeted me in local chat. I’m on vacation right now, using a laptop with no microphone, so voice was not an option. (I don’t think it would have mattered anyway, but more on that later.) I greeted her back, and asked about the dragon that was following her around. Oddly, she didn’t respond right away, and when she did it was to say that she couldn’t receive any of my text even though she could see my typing animation.

“Weird,” I thought. I switched to IM, and got the same result. She realized there was something strange going on, and relogged to solve the problem. Except that it didn’t solve the problem. I tried chat, IM, and our class’s group chat; still nothing. I quickly put a notecard together saying that I could at least see what she was typing and dropped it on her – only to have her repeatedly decline the offer. Same with the shoe-store landmark I tried to give her.

By now you may have guessed what we later discovered – she had accidentally muted me. Now, I have never experienced the power of the mute before, and it was both frustrating and challenging. How to get a message to Shailey to let her know my side of the experience, and to say that I did indeed by this point suspect I was muted?

In a moment of inspiration, I rezzed a cube – thank goodness we were in a sandbox! – and dropped my earlier notecard into it along with a floating text script saying “Open me, Shailey!” I don’t know whether that worked (we’re going to meet again tomorrow, and I’ll ask her), but it at least had a chance and, while tedious, might be the only way to let someone know they’ve muted you – if it wasn’t done on purpose. (It occurs to me now that even if she couldn’t get the notecard, I could just make the floating text display my message; similarly tedious, but saves a step and guaranteed effective.)

But really, all of this got me thinking. SL offers a lot of things to residents, not the least of which is an infinite shoe closet just waiting to be filled. In addition to that wonderful fact is the great variety of ways to communicate with others. IM and chat, notecard and voice, prims that talk or link to websites, not to mention gestures and muting (an extreme form of communication!); our communication options are incredibly flexible. I’m not sure how many people (outside of vendors and other business people) think about it this way – I know I hadn’t. The power of the platform really hit home today.

Song of the Moment: "Mosh," Eminem

Update, 8/2/08: It also occurs to me, depending on what you’re teaching, that this could be a great class exercise: communicate something (perhaps a predecided something) to someone else, perhaps in-class or perhaps out-of-class, without using local chat or IM. Or, as a series of exercises, first without chat, then without IM, then with increasing restrictions to promote lateral thinking on the issue. Lots of possibilities here, and it can be presented as a challenge or a game…

Song of the Moment: "Kismet," Bond

One Response to “What we have here is a failure to communicate”

  1. Wow, provocative post. I am so fascinated with communication and computer mediated communication in particular. Using prims to speak for you – brilliant. What a curious and potentially disturbing communication obstacle being muted could be – when it is unintended. Your problem solving skills opened both of our eyes (all 4 of our eyes in fact) to more of the richness of communication potential in VWs. Thanks. -E

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