Wednesday, February 28, 2007


It was inevitable. The silent film era was never destined to last forever. It was only a matter of time before someone invented synchronized sound recording and made it practical. For many silent film stars, it was a career ender. For others, and for many who had never worked in silents, it was a new opportunity. Movies would never be silent again.

The implications were parodied to great effect in the movie Singin' in the Rain. Gene Kelly's sexy silent-screen co-star turns out to have a horrible, squeaky voice. That cute little Debbie Reynolds has to stand behind a curtain to dub in a voice that people can stand to listen to.

So now Linden Lab is testing the integration of voice with Second Life. It was already happening in various ways, such as through the use of Skype. But now we're faced with the prospect of typed chat being replaced, or maybe complemented, by built-in voice communication.

I was fourth in with a comment on this announcement in the official Linden blog (I've since posted several more). The divisions that already exist in SL are apparent in the comments that follow. Those divisions can get pretty nasty, and misunderstanding is rampant.

For some, SL is an extension of First Life. Some of these people are in business. Some are in education. Some are just people who either have no imagination or can't be bothered to use it. Some comments even express hatred or disdain for those who do use their imaginations, who dare to be not "real," who dare to create their own world.

[Addendum: as Mordecai angrily but correctly points out, not all FL extenders fit into these categories. I know this is so. I was not intending this list to be comprehensive, and I was mainly reacting to the disdain and ridicule I was reading in the official blog.]

For others, SL is a way to live a life that they can't live in FL. It's a way to learn about themselves and others, a way to see just how far imagination can take them. It's a way to be free of a FL that might be fine but limiting or might even be intolerable.

I have a First Life already. It's a good life, for the most part, but it is what it is. Why would I want more of the same?

I'm thinking that the "utopia" of Second Life was never unified anyway. If there is any utopia, it's because there is room enough for an extreme diversity to exist without too much confrontation. Voice vs. typing will simply be another thing that divides people, which is kind of too bad but what can you do. Hopefully there will continue to be enough typers so that we will not become marginalized. Hopefully, not too many friendships will be broken.

See you in chat. Imagine that! You can if you try.


Michael said...

Your comment on the blog was actually what made me visit YOUR blog. I completely agree with you. I am not an English native speaker, and though I consider myself fluent, I would feel uncomfortable using my voice in SL. It would be an additional, unneccessary distraction, not only in SL, but also in RL (imagine you're not alone in a room and then you are supposed to make aural conversation with - your computer). It will drive a wedge between SL-ers of different nationality too.

Véronique Lalonde said...

Thanks for popping in and posting your comment, Michael. Good thing I wrote my own entry on this subject fairly quickly! I hope there will continue to be enough non-speakers in SL that we will not become a beleaguered minority, viewed with suspicion. I will be there chatting with non-English speakers (my written French is better than my spoken French), deaf people, and anyone who just appreciates quiet.

Melissa Yeuxdoux said...

Yes... the deaf, stutterers, people not comfortable speaking a non-native language... and then there's the whole thing about keeping FL and SL identity separate.

What if that cute little furry avatar, or female avatar, has a basso profundo voice? Or the bodybuilder proves to be a soprano?

For that matter, what about those of us who like to provide our own background music/sounds, or don't want to disturb someone else in the room watching their favorite TV show?

Michael Keukert said...

Oh, there's voice-morphing software for that. That's actually becoming more and more of a non-issue.

Véronique Lalonde said...

Even with voice morphing software, there is the issue of immersion. Maybe voices will still allow the same level of immersion in an imaginary world, but I doubt it. I personally need the otherness that SL provides, and to retain that otherness, I don't want RL voices or even morphed RL voices -- not until complete virtual reality is a reality.

And that leads to an issue that has come up repeatedly in the official blog: how SL is viewed. For me, it's a second life, a different life, an imaginary life. For many, it's chat with graphics, and I can kind of understand how those folks would want to yak at each other. Just please don't inflict it on me!

BTW, Melissa, I saw one legit reason for preferring speaking to typing. The comment came from a person with rheumatoid arthritis. So deaf people would be left out, but people with arthritis and repetitive strain injuries would be enabled.

Melissa Yeuxdoux said...

Well, yes, but... people with arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, etc. either have voice-to-text software or they don't.

If they don't, they have trouble during their non-SL interaction with the computer, which for most people is, I'd think, most of their interaction with the computer.

If they do, how will voice on SL help over and above what they have now?

Mordecai Scaggs said...

I read with interest your comment, Veronique. Sadly I see at as yet another attack on those of us who do find the advent of voice talk on the Grid an exciting possibility. It seems I am now to be more marginalized than ever, as I am already discriminated against for being a slow, clumsy typist, due to my dyspraxia, an irritating facet of my Aspergers. Very few people give me a chance to finish what I am saying in FL, so to be ignored and talked over in SL as well is getting enough of a nuisance to make me wonder why I bother at all.

So to have snide comments aimed at me as a part of this group, to say that my level of immersion is not as deep or as valid as anybody else's is frankly ignorant and rude. How dare you suggest that I have no imagination! At least I am honest enough to be myself here, not that it seems to get me any more respect than in FL.

I will not discriminate against people because of the medium of communication they choose to use, but I will discriminate against anyone who treats me as less than them because of the communication method I choose.

You claim to be for inclusion on the Grid, but your comments here and elsewhere serve to show you to be as much a "them or us" type as anyone else. I will take pride in not being a part of your version of "us".

Véronique Lalonde said...

Mordecai, my post was never meant as an attack. In fact, I think it simply acknowledged that there are different approaches. And if voice really works, it's not the "voicers" who are likely to be marginalized.

I would never suggest that you have no imagination, my friend. Clearly, you do. Remember, if the shoe doesn't fit, it wasn't meant for you.

I am not in favour of us vs. them, Mordecai. I'm only afraid that's what the result will be. I don't want to lose friends or be viewed with suspicion because I choose not to speak.

Anonymous said...

Even without the inherent issue of transgender SL avatars ( which I am ) being 'exposed'.....I find the whole idea of voice in SL rather silly.

OK so I could give up playing a woman ( I won' cute little female avatar will simply say the PC does not have a microphone...and she's very believable )....and be a man like I am in real life. Who shall I look like ? How about Keanu Reeves ? I'd quite like that.....trenchcoat and all. But hold on ! With voice I had now better SOUND like Keanu Reeves as well.....and I don't....I have a deep bellowy voice like Howard Keel.

So some interested female will come over and say ' look just like Neo in the Matrix '. But before I can start rubbing my hands in anticipation of some hot virtual sex.....out comes Howard Keel's voice....and the illusion is gone.

Mind you....maybe she likes Howard Keel.