Language of Virtual Communications

Posted By Pamela on Jun 9, 2008 | 6 comments

I’m coming to realize more and more than I live equally in virtual space and in real space. I collaborate with wonderful people spread around the world and I gab with them over Skype as we read one another’s blogs to see into one another’s worlds. Thursday, I even had a “Dang – these jeans don’t fit right” conversation with Adrienne, the IYA New Media Second Life lead about virtual jeans (I managed to make an IYA T-Shirt look, um, like something that shouldn’t be worn in real or virtual public thanks to jeans that were cut a bit low). This second reality of virtual friendships sometimes leads to fascinating turns of phrase.

Imagine hearing the words, “You still seem to be my friend,” in real life. Can you think of an instance where those words wouldn’t be attached to some moment of hurt?

Yet, when seen in a skype window following technical issues, this seemingly nasty turn of phrase is just the thing to cause a silly smile (Apparently my mac mini is better at keeping track of who it’s friends with than my MacBook Pro).

“Friend me,” “Poke me,” “Add me.”

This me, me, me litany of modern communications helps us build connections with them, you, those. The words are a bit rude (What stranger would you not run from if they demanded friendship for no reason in the middle of the afternoon?), a bit rough (Please don’t poke me in real life), and a bit odd (add me to what?). But . . . These phrases are what allow you to find me in Facebook and send a hug, a flower, and cow (doesn’t everyone need to throw a cow now and then?).

It is odd how our language has turned to two purposes as its meaning splits between the spoken and the IM’d, but my virtual life makes me happy in both worlds. I live in small town America, and my virtual life makes me real world happy as it lets me leave behind the city without leaving the city’s diversity of people.

Just don’t poke my reality. Poke my virtuality.


  1. One can simply look at the world 10 years ago and easily realize how much this virtualization has already crept up our lives. It’s a growing trend.

  2. I have always wished that “Friend Me” on Facebook was predicated with the word “Please.” I wonder if the politeness was lost back in the old days when memory was more expensive and every bit had to be maximized for efficiency’s sake. Perhaps it is an artifact from texting, too, when texting was so arduous that additional words were a pain in the butt.

    So, when I send you a “friend” request, keep in mind that if the computer doesn’t read “please” I do mean “please” through implication.

  3. Ah, context is everything! 🙂

    Sounds like the virtual world (with which I am not nearly as familiar as I would like to be) has certainly developed its own (virtual)culture. Has someone published a (virtual)paper on this yet?

    BTW, can you control the weather in Second Life? ‘Cause get ready–looks like we’re in for more rain…wind…tornadoes…today!

  4. Ah, it is a very strange thing! I realise now that I live a vast amount of my life virtually. My job is also to provide people with virtual content, so I not only live virtually but create virtually (just like you with your blog and astrocast) for virtual consumption.
    I think that split of language that’s occurring is perfectly (and amusingly) illustrated by this screenshot a friend of mine took from a networking site:

  5. Hi Paul, that is by far the funniest thing I’ve seen in a while. Do you know the source? I’d love to use it as a post image 🙂

  6. Pamela writes: Just don’t poke my reality. Poke my virtuality.

    That’s why when I am driving along the interstate roughly in your neck of the woods on my way to my summer vacation, I wouldn’t dream of calling you. That would be so obnoxious and unwelcome as to be unthinkable.

    It isn’t that our lives have little compartments. But we have our public lives in virtual space, and then we have our private lives with our families. They can and do overlap some. But there *is* such a thing as sharing too much. People need their space and privacy.

    I’ve found that as my kids get older (13 and 15yo now) and the virtual world gets more open, I am more and more careful of my personal privacy. Maybe it comes from knowing that things I wrote over 20 years ago in Usenet groups before the web are now available on the web. I’ve tried to instill that sense of privacy in my kids.

    Now off to Second Life to see if the graphics have improved since I last visited. The Slacker Astronomy area was refreshing so often as to be annoying.

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