I've been fighting with myself for the past hour on whether or not to post this. So if you come back and it's gone...well, it just is.
So "balance" seems to be the word of the day. How do you balance SL and RL? How do you know when you're too addicted to SL? How can you deal with it all?
We throw the addiction word around a lot. I'm addicted to these shoes. I'm addicted to this person. I'm addicted to cheese fries or Dr. Pepper or books about men. And of course, we're addicted to SL. But are we REALLY addicts, or have we simply learned how to enjoy something that's not tv or movies or shopping?
Ready for a little RL stuff about me?
Back in the day, maybe around 5 years ago, I was addicted to shopping. And I had a REAL problem. I would go out to the mall, and suddenly everything would grow fuzzy around me. I'd find things, my heart rate would speed up, my breathing would get faster. I wanted what I wanted when I wanted it and only the cashier handing me the bag would make me relax. Sometimes I'd find myself back in the car unsure of how I got there. At the end of the day, I'd have so many nonsense items, I would HIDE them from my boyfriend. I had so many cosmetics, you would have thought I was opening a salon. I only shopped alone because I didn't want anyone to see what I was doing.
Going back further, about 10 years ago, I had an eating disorder. I binged like no tomorrow. I ate alone, always alone. I'd go to the grocery store and buy things and eat in the car. I had to shove the food in my mouth fast. I'd stop at several fast food places and buy whatever I could say first. I'd grow dizzy with the excitement of eating, but no one could ever know. It was my thing, only mine, and I was addicted to the rush.
So when I hear people casually say that they're addicted to whatever, I shake my head. I know addiction. And yes, I say it too. I won't say that I don't. But in my head, I know addiction. I come from a family where addiction runs rampant, from pills to alcohol to troublesome relationships.
The thing is, most of us simply enjoy SL. We use it for any number of reasons. Some people make their living here. Some people use it to fill some hours in the evening because they can no longer go bar hopping and they don't care about tv. Some people use it to work out any emotional issues they have, such as learning how friendship works or learning to accept compliments without feeling like someone is going to want something in return. Some people use it to experience what it's like to walk. Some people use it to find out what it's like to have a conversation that doesn't involve signing. Some use it to feel love again. We use it for different reasons that make sense in our heads, even if we can't put a label on it. And that's not a bad or wrong thing.
I've said it before, but we are truly pioneers in a virtual world where there are no set rules on how we handle things. This isn't The Sims. We do not control everyone. But we can control ourselves and our reactions to things. There are real people behind the avatars, with real feelings. In many ways, it's similar to any number of chat programs. I've been chatting since 1997 [real time chatting. I've been on the internet corresponding with people since 1993], and I have seen true addicts who have lost their jobs and who have let their kids sleep on the floor because they couldn't tear themselves away from it all. And I have also seen people who have met in an online chat room, become friends, met up in the real world, and become more than that. I see people from SL meet up much in the same way. Those of you who use Plurk probably have seen the pictures from the meet-ups they seem to do in the UK. SL people met at the SL convention, hugged, talked face to face, and let their friendships grow. But there are also people who will never meet, and want their online friendships to stay online. That's not a bad thing either!! But what makes SL different from any regular chat program is that we can "see" each other. Our avatars are extensions of ourselves. We can hug, kiss, dance together, and have fun and see it happening on our screens. It makes it different. Not better or worse. Just different. I have a RL friendship that is mostly virtual because we cannot get together that often due to her schedule. Our friendship uses instant messengers and myspace to grow. SL has helped me see that friendships that are online are just as wonderful and amazing as any I've had in my outside world. Maybe even better than some.
So moving away from that, let's talk balance. We all have to find it at some point, and NOT just in Second Life. We balance things all the time in our everyday lives. We balance our eating habits - I can have cake one night if I don't go crazy and have it 3 times a day for 2 weeks. We balance our families - I'll call my mother to see how they're doing but I don't have to drive out there every day to make sure she has dinner ready. We balance our relationships - I don't have to jump up every time my boyfriend needs a drink, but I won't ignore him because I'm writing a blog post. We balance our friendships - I'll see my friend because she makes me laugh, not because I feel an obligation because I've known her for over 10 years.
How do I personally balance my SL and my RL? I take things as they come. If the phone rings, I answer and tell people "brb, phone." [I only answer numbers I know, though, and it's usually my mom anyway.] If my boyfriend needs me, I get up and see what he wants. He asks if I'm doing anything important first, most of the time. I do my nails at the desk. I tweeze my eyebrows while I'm chatting in the group. If I'm just hanging out in SL, there's a good chance I'm flipping around to other websites to see what's up. MySpace, Facebook, Digg, YouTube, they all get some attention. [Although I'll admit that I didn't really start using MySpace or Facebook again until about 2 weeks ago, so that's kind of a new thing for me.] I'm usually chatting to someone on Yahoo or Google Talk unless I'm really busy in SL or having a good conversation with someone. If I feel the need to get up for a shower or to do something else, I do it. And as I told Cen, Saturdays are my "anything goes" day. Most people know that's the day I visit with family anyway, but if I am not doing that, then I let myself do whatever I want, whether it's sitting on SL all day, or it's laying on the couch watching MTV, or it's driving around just seeing what's up. But this is how it works for ME. I have no children, I have no husband, I don't really enjoy shopping anymore, I do not have to work right now, and my parents are my main concern. Could I be doing things better? Oh, probably. But none of what I could be doing to make my life better has a single thing to do with Second Life.
And I guess that's another thing. We try to put up a wall and say, "All my SL stuff is over here, and over here is all my RL stuff." But at what point does it just become your life? SL has been, and still is, my escape from a number of things in my RL. It doesn't make it more important than some things in my RL, but it doesn't make it less important either. It is simply where my friends are, where I feel loved, and where I can express my creativity in a very inexpensive way. Simply put, it enriches my life.
Sometimes you do have to step back and take a look and see where you are in the grand scheme of things. But for the most part, I think we're all ok. Out of my close group of friends, I know no truly SL addicted people. Stop beating yourselves up for enjoying this world. Enjoy it as it comes, surround yourself with positive people, whether SL or RL people, and you'll be ok.