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:
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: