We may live on islands, but islands we are not

No one wants to admit they are lonely, and it is never really addressed very much between friends and family. But I have felt lonely many times in life.

Bill Murray, Critically acclaimed and commercially successful, American Actor

Scholars call it anomie. Some of us refer to it as loneliness. Many more, call it “an emptiness”. Regardless of how we label it, disconnection is a universal experience arising from the fact we are human. Few, however, want to talk about it.

But sometimes, some will.

Last night at the Basilique Salon, we hosted a fascinatingly honest discussion with a group of residents who summoned the courage to talk about loneliness, prompted by the question:

Is Second Life a lonely place? Or is it a place to escape loneliness. Or neither?

“(Second Life) can be a very lonely place” one said, “I’ve spent much of my SL in my sim or at my home, alone, with none of my friends bothering to say hi.”

Perhaps it was the environment, or emboldenment arising from the sense of being among kindred spirits – last night the word “loneliness” ceased to be a stigma, at least for the moment.

“It’s a form of social leprosy, to admit loneliness”, said one participant.

“Lonely people are seen as misfits”, said another. “So we tend to isolate those who try to reach out much more than they are already isolated.”

Becoming comfortable with the word is one thing, admitting we sometimes feel lonely is another.

“We meet various friends… but there is still that loneliness that sets in,” said one of our male participants: “there are times we all wish our friends would just text if nothing else to say hello.”

He continued: “Often we find that we end up only coming into SL to face the stigma and staunch reality that we were alone anyway… I come to SL for a reason, not to sit alone for hours twiddling my thumbs.”

I was surprised by the candor, and even more surprised that it came from a man. I may be biased, but I don’t expect men to own up to vulnerability very often, especially in a group full of strangers, most of them women.

One might expect too, that leaders of groups in Second Life might never feel lonely, but I can share from personal experience that this is simply not the case.

One leader of a large Second Life social group said: “I do know this form of loneliness as well, even being head of a large group and tons of friends, there’s days when no one says hello”.

But what about the artists, the creators and photographer/bloggers that spend most of their Second Lives focused on their craft? Do they too sometimes feel lonely?

One accomplished Second Life artist shared: “When I have gone to a live music performance and nobody has even welcomed me there, that can make you feel a little unwelcome and lonely. I have been on SL for just over 6 years and probably spent 80% of my time alone. I am an artist and usually creating, (I) rarely feel lonely when I am doing that, but if I do start to feel like that, I usually look into events and somewhere to try to meet people.”

Ah yes, the club scene that so many of us are familiar with. Surely that’s where we can have the stimulating social connection we seek?

“IMs from dancer, DJ and host/ess “friends” of yours, inviting you to get there, not because they want to have *you* around, but simply because they want to increase traffic, earn their keep and make a few L$ in tips out of you….” said one participant.

Another agreed: “The Club scene is not for me because many things are easier and people are easier to approach in SL, but I still end up standing in a corner most of the time.”

“How many conversations in local are simply hi, bye and welcome back?” Asked another, “or what might be termed gesturebation?”

“Just in RL”, someone else said, “it’s weird that I found myself often loneliest when immersed in a large group of people.”

But it wasn’t all unanimous.

“I don’t think (it) is a lonely place as it (is) easy to find company”, a participant disagreed. “It is possible to have enjoyable friendships here. Now I do believe people come here to escape loneliness. I do not think there is anything wrong with that.”

Still, there are factors inherent in a virtual world, and in the places and groups that we set up, that influence how many people experience social isolation, as shared by one member: “So many places set up barriers…more often unconscious ones… time zones, language, cultural references, we all do it.”

And what about other barriers, like gender? Do they also lend to different experiences with Second Life loneliness between the sexes?

“One of the fascinating things I find in here is that male bonding experiences are fundamentally different from female bonding experiences.” Said Harvey.

“How men bond is just different, and I have both found, and continue to find that the opportunities in here are far fewer in terms of how males bond.”

Others agreed: “I think it’s harder for men to make contacts here. Given the time guys have approached me and sometimes stumbled on every word.”

“Men tend not to grasp the detailed relationships as quickly”, said a male member of our group.

There was so much to cover from this session, I couldn’t fit it into one post. So in my next post, I’ll share people’s suggestions for why this loneliness exists, and what they do to deal with it.

In the meantime, why do you think some people might experience loneliness in Second Life? What would be your advice to someone who felt lonely in Second Life? Share your ideas in the comments below, it might be of great help.

Photo Credit: Bamboo Barnes “A Winter Island” taken at Basilique Town, used with permission.

4 thoughts on “We may live on islands, but islands we are not

  1. I am really sorry I missed this evening and the discussion, but..hey hooo, I had a good reason: catching up with a friend who had not been inworld for several months! Which, actually kind of fits in with the theme in some sort of way: being so happy to see a long time missed, dear friend pop online out of the blue and finding they have time to talk and spend some time together.
    By now you’ve seen my take on loneliness in SL and although I do experience loneliness at times, it is just occasionally – just like in RL – and not a burden or something that makes me feel bad, sad and so on. I guess it is part of (Second) Life after all. Am looking forward to the rest of your wrap up, a very interesting discussion/topic!


    1. Thanks for your comment Cait, and yeah, great reason to miss! There will be plenty more, and I hope you’ll find the next topics we are planning as interesting as this one!


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