Monday, October 6, 2008


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.


C said...

Don't delete it ok?
I know where you are coming from, and you know where I am coming from, and if anyone reads more into this than kindness and support well too bad.
It's a great post and YAY slump over :)

Ari Blackthorne™ said...

I was away from SL through a large part of September. (Cen, I think you relized this) - I mean - I came in world. But would only stay for an hour or two at most.

I'd skip a day or two at a time.

I didn't blog it. I didn't write about it anywhere else. And I didn't tell anyone.

I did over September, what everyone is talking about.Backup, regroup, evaluate, reapproach.

Balance. It really is a good thing. I feel back to normal, stalking the things I stalk and yet, not feeling as pressured as I did before in so many SL things...

Running a sim market, dealing with customers, building things, 50 people all demanding my time at the same time.

On refresh, I've decided SL isn't THAT important. I have a lot of people that know me in SL. Can I call them 'friend'? I guess so.

But in truth, I know who my real friends are. and I MAKE time only for them. Everyone else can take a number.

In fact, I had a ridiculously "important" meeting last night. I had about an hour beforehand and I promised a friend I would give them some time.

I did, and we talked. And I ended-up spending about two-and-a-half hours with them. Because they are more important than the 'meeting.'

It feels good to have your priorities set straight again. And sometimes we just need to sit back, stretch those arms and legs, take a walkabout.

Then come back and look at ecverything in a new light. :)

M said...

Oooh don't delete this Ali! You said, very eloquently and very precisely, everything I feel about online. I've gone through my crisis moments where I thought "omg I have a problem!" and even had family members try to stage "interventions". Did I need to make changes in my life? Yes, absolutely, but they were changes I needed to make regardless of my time online.

So very well said. I actually copied parts of it to send to my family so they'll finally understand how I feel and will get off my case. xD

And glad you are feeling better Cen. *hug*

Genevieve Lutetia said...

thank you so much for writing this.

Dyami Jameson said...

Great post Alicia....I've taken a few breaks myself in the two years that I've been in SL. I think we all need that from time to time.

I come back to SL for the friendships that I've made here. I have no other reason really to be here. I don't run anything. I don't build anything. I don't have an SL job. I've always known my real life priorities come first and have always put them first. SL is where I come to have fun and unwind from real life when my priorities have been met. I do consider my SL friends RL friends and if the day ever comes that I should have to leave SL, I hope I can carry those friendships over.

Cath said...

Most. Brilliant. Post. Ever.

Margo Sciarri said...

A great read Alicia... I agree with you- SL is unique to each person, what they get out of it, and what they put into it.

Casandra Shilova said...

Wonderful post Ali. Thank you.

My husband thinks I'm addicted, but he also knows I don't have an addictive personality. I focus on something (usually some sort of art) - delve in thoroughly until I hit a point and realize it's enough!

With SL, I don't know if that time will come. The friends, the adventures SL brings us! Hurray!

Shelly@Moonshine said...

If I could put my own feelings about RL vs SL/ virtual vs tangible, and simply about balance and moderation, these are the words I'd have used. Now I don't have to. I can point people here.Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Casandra Shilova said...

I reflected on both your words and Cen's and posted on my personal balance on my blog.

/me hugs and admires Ali

Tristan Micheline said...

Excellent post Ali. I feel the same way. Your eloquence is just amazing. I've felt this way myself. Am currently in the finding a balance between RL and SL and I'm glad to be reminded that each person has the same feelings. It's very brave of you to put out there your troubles and addictions in the past and *gasp* RL ones at that. *Hugs* Thanks for another great thought provoking post , Ali.

Skinkie said...

Thank you for this post. I am also an addict - a REAL addict, recovering from alcoholism (and a sneaky overspending addiction). Very often when I hear people saying they are addicted to SL I roll my eyes in real life. If only they knew, they'd not use the word so flippantly.

Only someone who has been addicted, and worked a program to recover and control their addictions, could write what you have. Ideas like balance, not beating yourself up, first things first and live & let live. They are the ideas I live by, that keep me sober, a day at a time, but they are nonetheless good sane principles for everyone, addict or not.

I get a little annoyed with people telling others that they have that balance wrong. Where the SL/RL balance lies is different for each person, and it is not for me (or you) to judge that for anyone other than myself. It's tricky enough working out my own balance, I'm certainly not going to try working out someone else's. If you aren't sure you've got it right, take a step back, talk about it with trusted friends and loved ones, and try to look at things objectively. If all else fails then the words of a very good friend of mine might help - "Do the next right, loving, thing for yourself, and you won't go far wrong".

Gahum Riptide said...

I am guilty of using the word "addicted", but I do recognize that the time I spend in SL is NOT an addiction. I might get obsessed sometimes, but that is not equivalent to addiction.

I always say that were my RL friends still living close by, I'd be going out on weekends and not in SL on Fridays and Saturdays. SL fills a day to day social void, one I don't want to have to re-fill with new RL friends since I don't have the inclination to hang out at the bars or clubs here (and I generally think most of them are filled with douchebags anyway).

If it weren't SL, I'd do what I did before SL, screw around online and in chatrooms. SL is a social medium to me with the added benefit of seeing people I chat with be creative.

I balance it out by getting out in the garden. Taking drives, doing creative things on actual paper. I'll even take a break to watch TV because I can even get tired of SL.

Balance doesn't have to be a 1:1 ratio.

Anonymous said...

I had an addiction to sl. I played it so much that my husband found other things to do with his time. One of them being a floozy at the bar he hung with his friends at. I feel had i not wrapped so much time and money into sl i would of seen what was going on. It was all i would do. Id get up and turn sl on. Id go to bed with it still on. I even got a laptop just to play it so i could be "in the bed" with my hubby when he went to sleep. It was easy to get addicted to it. I am a housewife with 2 kids. If anyone needs to escape from reality its a house mom with 2+ kids. lol I stayed at home all the time. Finally got to were i didn't talk to my friends anymore. What did you do today? Oh well me, I made sandwiches and saw little johnny off on the bus. then i scrubbed carpets. ooh yay! lol So when i went to sl, i could be anyone i wanted to be. I didn't have to be Susie homemaker I could be Judy the exotic dancer. I also felt more appreciated then i did in my rl. You wipe johnny nose and he gets all upset cause you are invading his space to on the other hand you could buy a prim sweater for a friend and you was tops. So yes i can say i was truly addicted. I had to give up sl completely. I needed to refocus on my family and my life. So when a friend of mine saw this she passed it along to me. So yes there is a real addiction to Sl out there. Doesn't make me weak. I just couldn't find that balance.

Terry Toland said...

I was flat out told by a psychologist I was addicted to Second Life. And she was right. And it hurt, because it pointed out in my attempt to gain control of my life, I was out of control. In relation to balance, it hurt to not be able to pass the field sobriety test of mental health.

I'd rather not go into a long story; you've been there, and this is your lesson for other people. In the end, somethings that can help us do things - to feel, to be in control, to be different - can be abused and come back to bite us in the ass. It's these times we need intervention and a break to regain our senses. And it's a positive thing for more people to step up and talk about it. Like you, it's frustrating for me to hear someone speak casually about being "addicted".

So, there are my two Linden. <3

Erinn said...

I'm pretty proud of myself in that I'm slowly weaning myself out of SL -- not completely, but I need to stop running here to escape. There are so many things in my life that are broken right now, and I need to fix them, not hide from them. I've immersed myself in this "game" when I should have been looking for jobs, packing my apartment, recovering from a bad RL breakup in a healthy way, and nurturing my existing RL relationships. I love everyone I've met on SL, but hell, I'm still in my 30s, life is a banquet and so many poor slobs are starving. I need to get out there and enjoy the beautiful real world that's around me and stop fooling myself with pixelated illusions.

Quaintly drove it home the other day when she gently poked fun at me for having so much time on my hands that I could stand in one place and watch for shoes in the Oz hunt. I need to fill my life with meaningful moments. Real ones.

Love to you, Ali.

(Emerald W.)

Seren Dawes said...

I think Gahum hit it exactly with:

Balance doesn't have to be a 1:1 ratio.

It's ever-evolving. Sometimes we need more from RL; sometimes from SL. The trick is to keep our eyes open.

Excellent post, Ali. Thank you for being brave enough to post it.