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Vocation (and why it will not Take Over the Grid)

The persistent rumours that folk on the Grid will soon be able to hear voices in their heads appear to be approaching a state of reality.

Speaking personally, and after taking medical advice, I have no intention of listening to Otherworldly Voices within SL or inviting other people to do the same, and it strikes me from a quick look at different reactions so far across many different Aethernet publications that a lot of others seem to feel the same way, or at least are sceptical as to their practical utility. Reasons given include:

  • "it will ruin immersion to have inappropriate voices for appearances" / "my voice is part of my RL identity, not my SL one"
  • "people are idiots"
  • "group discussion would be even more of a nightmare than it is at the moment". As others have said, it is hard to shout over other people with text, whereas any decent-sized group discussion with voice unless carefully managed becomes a bit of a mess.
  • "any busy area would be a nightmare" (imagine - or perhaps try to avoid imagining - a Welcome Area or busy club)
  • "people will start to spam by voice, not just text"
  • "it is bad for non-native English speakers, who will have a harder time interpreting accents etc and expressing themselves" and one can't use a Babbler with voice
  • "there is no simple logging and analysis of voice chat"

The immersion and separation points are very important. One spends so much time customising one's appearance and the way one comes across to others in Second Life, yet there is little one can do about one's Other World voice - "masking" technologies aren't really very good and don't change one's phrasing in any case. A couple of examples - Fiend Ludwig in the Herald's comment area says:

SL is all about a *second* life - my voice is an exclusive feature of my first life and I want it to stay that way.

I also like Mr Nate Combs' related statement about the "ebbing away of the distinction between the virtual and the real identity/experience", that any direct insertion of voice (and by necessity ambient sound) intrinsically chips away at one's sense of otherworldness whatever it is used for. Clearly this is something of an "immersionist" / "augmentationist" issue - some people simply will not see the issue, or think it silly - but I know which side of that I am most on.

The issue of logging or simple persistence of text on a screen, though it has not really been mentioned an awful lot, seems to me to be very significant as well. At the moment, an automatic record is created of every single conversation that I have on the Grid, which easily be searched within or without it, thus I can in an instant check whether I have spoken to someone before, what they said about my parentage and so on. Unless one is prepared to record and transcribe every conversation, this becomes rather difficult with Otherworldly Voices.

Even when one thinks simply of the advantages of (with text) being able to lose concentration for a moment or do something else - make a cup of tea, give a burglar what for - and then reread the last few messages in a conversation without anyone noticing that one has even been away, it becomes clear that there is a great advantage in such logging. Voice is immediate and demands attention or it is gone, or at least very hard to get back; having multiple conversations at once is tricky at the best of times.

Oh, and think of the issues when one is having more than one conversation at once, with people in different parts of the Grid! Speaking to A, B and C individually at the same time is simple with text, if one allows a certain delay, but three simultaneous voice conversations with the parties not hearing anyone else I do not think would be at all practical. It may be that these Voices will have to be limited to those who are in close physical proximity. I am surely not the only person who never seems to be conversing with just one person at once.


Now, the above might be taken to indicate that I am opposed to the idea of Otherworldly Voices intruding onto this plane. This is not the case - I possess no hostility to this projected Spiritualism and see few who do either. There are worries, though, that those not using Otherworldly Voices will be seen as evasive, or simply ignored, and that using the system will become the norm, driving out those who do not wish to for whatever reason. I do not personally fear this, as I consider that, given the number of doubts I see expressed even within hours of the announcement, for the foreseeable future the use of text will remain the default, particularly in group activities, where one must take the abilities and preferences of every participant into account.

To be quite honest, if I encountered someone who insisted on using voice to communicate on some matter of business, I would assume - as I have in the past, with External OV Services - that they were attempting to evade any possibility of their speech being recorded for the attention of the Linden Judges or for future evidence of contracts and agreement. I am only a rather amateur shopkeeper, but were I to be dealing with many customers at once, I would be most concerned that certain types would try to exploit the difficulty of logging. This corresponds, now that I think of it, to my mistrust of people in the Other World who wish only to communicate via the Telephone and refuse to send Emails of Confirmation - I consider them rude (for demanding that I reply at their convenience, i.e. when they call, not mine, i.e. when I get around to it) and potentially duplicitous (wishing to make promises and then avoid taking responsibility for them later through lack of evidence).

To sum up, there is certainly nothing wrong with people using OVs within Second Life - they do quite frequently already - but I would not expect it to become the dominant form of communication, instead reserved more for certain people and certain occasions. I imagine that it would be useful for some forms of discussion or lecture where the main speakers can communicate more easily by, well, speaking, than they can with a keyboard. I imagine that those who already chat in this way will find a built-in system more convenient, and that some others will encounter it for the first time and find that it suits them. It will remain an added option.

The day when one is ostracised for preferring to speak in the form of the written word I do not see approaching - particularly as there is no proposal to differentiate between residents in terms of access (though perhaps between landowners - a different kettle of fish) and thus use of voice does not become a social signifier in itself. Voice is useful when playing games, where it provides quick communication without having to release controls for a moment and potentially die, but that is not common in Second Life. There are also many more people here interested in tinkering with their identity, appearance, setting and other such elements who would find that the general use of un-tinkerable voice interferes with their enjoyment.


Here, as an addendum, are a few other pieces on the subject:

A Manner of Speaking « Evans Avenue Exit's picture
02 Mar200707:53
A Manner of Speaking « Evans Avenue Exit (not verified)

[...] too much from an immersive experience? The upstanding inventrix, Ms. Ordinal Malaprop, has neatly summarized many of the objections to built-in voice, such [...]

Merry Calliope's picture
02 Mar200715:55
Merry Calliope (not verified)

I suspect the voice 'feature' will not be put into use as much as people are guessing. Aside from a...er...'value added' feature for the Grid's...*ahem*...courtesan residents and perhaps other one-on-one situations I can't imagine how it could integrate gracefully.

Admittedly though, I 'grew up' in the Stone Age of mucks, mushes, muds and moos and have a certain affection for text-based chat that the younger generation may not share.

Jaymin Carthage's picture
02 Mar200723:27
Jaymin Carthage (not verified)

My Esteemed Malaprop,

It is very interesting I seems that many of the disadvantages you portray from this development, I see as advantages. Admittedly, my perspective is that of an employee of the East India Tea company! However truly 9 out of 10 meetings that I participate in during mhy working day (and there are many) are conducted almost exclusively via such means. And through this we are able to conduct such business to economicl subdue sub-continents (although we aren't an abusive monopoly like certin _other_ companies, cough). For those used to it, there is no awkwardness cumbersomeness or similar problems.
Let me compare the two biggest meetings I have atteneded in Second Life. The first was a gathering of my religious denomintion. It was conducted solely through text. The long pauses as the minister addressed us were awkward, and typing in our affirmation of faith in "unison" was less than spiritual. There were about 40 people present.
The second was a business meeting for my Tea Company. One hundred and forty of us were present (spread across the corners of 4 sims) and we used a feature very similar to that proposed to conduct the meeting. It was quite a lot more productive.

To your point of a lack of a written record... this can actually be to advantage. One of the biggest limitations I face is using Second Life for more than entertainment is that it is not a secure medium. It is precisely because anyone (including Lord Linden) can record anything said, we cannot discuss any matters that should only be kept between two gentlemen. Whereas with this new feature, it is _possible_ for such dialog to be recorded, it is much less practical and many more subjects can be disucssed.
I, myself, occasionally show a lack of restraint and, well, lets just say that I have had the obejctive to "show more judicious use of e-mail" in more than one annual review in the past decade. The advice on each time is to conduct such conversations in voice. One can then express oneself more freely without worries of being taken out of context or, if the heat of the moment gets to one, it is easier to apologize.

Lastly I will speak to the "immersion" argument. Yes, there are those who come to Second Life for escapism and the chance to "be someone else". And, I think the points I have mostly seen expressed so far come from that viewpoint. And, certainly, I think they are quite valid from that viewpoint. However, if we are discussing taking over the grid we cannot omit the fact that the population of our dear land is growing by leaps and bounds. Those who have been there a long time are quickly becoming quite the minority. It is a mistake to assume that all of these new people will follow the path that the established people have followed.
Like Ms. Calliope I have a personal fondness for the antiquated analogues of our second life, and even spend quality time with friends every Monday night with a similar paper and pencil game that has been around for nearly 20 years. I remember Usenet before September '93. So, in many of these past times I remain, in a past time, to my delight. However, I am aware that most of my breathern have upgraded to version 3.5, and many such modern contrivances. I do not make the mistake of assuming the world is painted in colors I like.

So, overall, I believe this new development will become quite common. I think it will be another dividing line between those of the world that was, and those of the world that is becoming.


Sanctuary|Online » Voice coming to Second Life®.'s picture
04 Mar200714:28
Sanctuary|Online » Voice coming to Second Life®. (not verified)

[...] within the next few months.  It’s been interesting to read some of the responses ([1], [2], [3]), and to note Erbo Evans‘ mention of how it might be useful for Sanctuary’s Bible [...]

An Engine Fit For My Proceeding · Leaves and Twigs's picture
16 May200706:45
An Engine Fit For My Proceeding · Leaves and Twigs (not verified)

[...] note, I am also working on a small sign to be held up at opportune moments when the arrival of Otherworldly Voices comes about - let us not forget that this is only a week or so [...]

An Engine Fit For My Proceeding · A Momentous Day (For Some)'s picture
03 Aug200708:34
An Engine Fit For My Proceeding · A Momentous Day (For Some) (not verified)

[...] views on the whole situation have not changed from the last time I pontificated regarding it, by the [...]

An Engine Fit For My Proceeding · The Conclusion of Voices?'s picture
21 Oct200706:53
An Engine Fit For My Proceeding · The Conclusion of Voices? (not verified)

[...] I was recently considering the matter of Otherworldly Voices. There was an immense kerfuffle about the introduction of Voices to the Grid - admittedly, there is an immense kerfuffle about any introduction or removal of anything whatsoever, but in this case it was a kerfuffle promulgated by many Leading Thinkers and Commentators, and also myself. [...]