The Instant IM and Honouring Transition Time in Second Life

Liminal Zones What the hell is “transition time” you ask? A transition time might be any length of time spent in a state that has the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in a middle stage, between one state and another.

Huh? What am I on about now?

A “real life” example of transition time – or “Give me some space!”

Here is an analog life example that might help illustrate this phenomenon. Later in the post, I’ll share how this relates to Second Life:

Imagine coming home after your day at work. You open the door to your house, ritualistically take off your coat, and then maybe your shoes… but as you’re doing so, your spouse/partner/flatmate bounds up the hallway excitedly saying “Hey, how are you!?”

How do you react? It may surprise you that different people respond differently to the timing this kind of interaction.

Some I’ve spoken to welcome it. They might turn to their partner happily responding “I’m great, how are you?!” letting the conversation ensue as they transition from work life to home life in the presence of another.

Others are different. Many people need what I’ve heard referred to as “Transition Time”. In response to their partner’s immediate greeting upon arriving home, they might feel a bit overwhelmed with the timing of the greeting, feeling the urge to pull away and escape into their bedroom before emerging 5 to 10 minutes later more ready to engage.

In their private space, they might change out of their work clothes, have a short nap, take a shower, or write a short diary entry. Others might gradually transition in semi-private spaces, as they read a newspaper, enjoy a glass of wine, or watch a little passive news on the TV.

Interruptions during this time rarely get much traction, and partners/spouses that habituate to each other slowly learn to respect these transition times as necessary threshold crossings, like a caterpillar’s cocoon, as they patiently wait for the butterfly they know and love to beautifully emerge.

What’s going on here? Why are some happy to immediately engage whilst others prefer a more slow and private transition from one state to another?

A Second Life example of transition time – or again, “Give me some space!”

Let me speak for myself as I share with you an example from Second Life that might express what it feels like to be in the second camp, those that prefer (need! must have!) transition time.

Before I log in to Second Life (usually after a work day), I notice a few standard rituals I’ll conduct including: having a nap, brewing myself a tea, sitting on a specific spot on my couch, feet up, and facing in a specific direction. I will first check my SL email, maybe read a few blogs, follow a few social media posts, and then finally, when I feel ready, log in.

When I log in to Second Life, I feel like I’m transitioning from one world to another. My friend Caity Tobias calls it “coming home”, which literally expresses what I mean. But just because I’ve logged in, it doesn’t mean I’m yet ready to face the digital world.

I’ll typically log into my bedroom in SL (which is where I always log off and is my designated “home” location). Then, I’ll instantly teleport to my platform at 1500 meters, finding it less laggy and distracting than my bedroom. I know I could simply reset my home location to my platform, but I don’t, because I like to “wake up” in my bedroom. (I know, weird, but we’ve only just begun…)

Now begins my transition time. I start with my notices (because I don’t have to respond to them). Usually, I’ll tick all but a few away, marking specific events on my calendar and saving specific notecards I may want to later reference. Then, I’ll turn to any IMs I may have not already responded to by email, and respond to them so that I can close down those windows. Finally, I’ll choose my outfit for the day. I’ll typically customise it (removing sunglasses if the weather in RL is overcast, updating a pair of shoes that might be more sensible for the crispness in the RL air, perhaps adding a jacket, or changing my hairstyle to reflect what I’m wearing these days.

Then, finally, I feel ready. Sometimes, this process takes 5 minutes, sometimes it takes 10 minutes depending on the work to be done. Regardless, I take the time, and use these transition strategies to help me adjust and orient into the digital world because I find it peaceful and necessary.

Enter the instant IM

Now imagine you’re like this (maybe you don’t have to imagine because you are like this already) and you get an IM, literally seconds after logging in. It feels exactly the same as the analog example above. Regardless of the sender, it interrupts my flow, messes with my chi, discombobulates me, adds to my disorientation, and doesn’t allow me to settle into my ritual transition strategies.

Don’t get me wrong, I love hearing from friends. I like getting IMs from people I’ve not talked to in a while, and from those I talk to everyday. It’s not about being an isolationist or introverted (although, to a degree, I am both at times), it’s about timing.

When discussing this with a friend of mine, she told me that there have been times that she’s logged in, sees herself rezzing slowly, and hears the old familiar “ching ching” of an IM whilst still in cloud form!

Give me some friggin’ space!!!

I’ve had a few instant IMers in my time. Nice people, of that I have little doubt. Some have even been my closest friends. Uncomfortable as it may be, I’ve learned to not suffer in silence. I’ve learned to separate the problem from the person, and to tell them to kindly hold off on contacting me for at least 5-10 minutes after I log in. Most immediately accept my preferences, adjust their habits, and all ends well. Hurrah for honest communication and empathetic flexibility!

A small minority, however, debate my preferences with me. Here are some of their responses ranging, from the innocently thoughtful to the downright inconsiderate:

  • “I might forget you’re online if I don’t IM you when I see your name pop up.”
  • “I didn’t want you to think I’m ignoring you.”
  • “Oh… I am just happy to see you. :/
  • “Ok fine, I just won’t IM you then.”
  • “I just wanted to show you I care, sorry for existing, pffft!”

These lines of debate, I’m sorry to say, rarely end so well.

I’ve done some searching online to find any research on this phenomenon. Maybe I’ve not got the term right (although I’ve seen some similarities with the anthropological term liminality, from the Latin word līmen, meaning “a threshold”), but I can’t yet find much written about this subject apart from Alison Armstrong’s work on gender relations, and how both genders require different transition times between the “I’m a worker” state to “I’m a spouse” state.

I’ve also seen some psychological research dealing with how children with autism have difficulty dealing with the many transitions that most of us find routine. I’m certain; however, that the need for transition time (ergo the need for the kind of transition strategies I describe above) exceeds those exhibited by spouses/partners and children with autism.

So I’m wondering, which side of the fence do you sit? Are you open to the instant IM? Or do you, like me, prefer transition time? Are you (gasp!) an instant IMer? Go on then, tell me how I’m wrong.

30 thoughts on “The Instant IM and Honouring Transition Time in Second Life

  1. Thanks you for this post, ma’am. I am very much like you in this regard and am, in fact, an ‘aspie’ (asperger syndrome) so close to autistic. Safe quiet space is a requirement when crossing any threshold. Like you, i have tried the open honest communication with my instant IM’ing friends with varying results. Most of my closest friends (FL and SL) know me and understand a little of this ‘condition’ and respect it.

    I love your posts, always thought provoking!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. There’s something about “X is online” alerts that’s misleading, as I’ve discovered recently while testing things out with an old (and recently resurrected) alt I have. You get the notification that “X is online”, and they have indeed logged in, but they’re really still at the stage where the viewer is requesting region capabilities and so can’t really answer you. So, by the time they’ve actually logged in, they can get a deluge of IMs (including offlines) from all sorts of people, which can be overbearing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ok. So the misleading part where the viewer shows you are online when you aren’t quite online amounts to what… 10 seconds maximum? I’m not sure how that is relevant, because I’m not talking about that kind of timeframe.

      I’m also not referring to offlines. I typically answer those offline before I log in, or wait to answer them when I’m finished my transition time, because no one is really *waiting* for a response. Those ones aren’t really overbearing at all.

      What I’m talking about specifically are the ones that come in within 5 minutes of logging in, in which case the viewer issues would have no bearing at all.


    2. It’s not so much the offlines – which I have seen already in email and in the corner of my eye when logging in I see them popping up and know/expect them. It is the additional ones of people who, indeed see you online before you yourself are and start greeting/rambling on. And as Becky said, even the ones after one is properly rezzed, lets say 3 mins?, are a bit too soon for my taste. I’d say a nice quiet login time of at least 15 mins is perfect :).


  3. Interesting post Becky… my list of friends is so small to have this type of an issue.. though thinking on this I must say it depends on my mood. Most often when I’m not prepared to talk just then because I’m still trying to rez or get all of those pop ups out of the way. I simply just respond and ask for a few minutes. I typically adjust with whatever the here and now is.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You might have a point that it’s related to friend’s list size. Not that mine is extraordinarily massive, but as someone who uses my friendslist as more of a “contact list”, then it’s actually probably related to the fact that not everyone on my list is actually someone who might know me well. I suppose this might prompt a need to be more explicit with certain people that don’t know me, might not have gleaned from my regular habits what I like and what I don’t, and hope that they respect my wishes. Good point and thanks for making it.


  4. Great post and describing exactly how I am and feel, ergo: I need the time to properly login, like you I have my own rituals before logging in as well, and once rezzed and loaded I do my little thingies (NC’s, outfit and such).
    I have a short friends list and most of my friends know I am a ‘slow login type’ but every now and then there is someone who indeed jumps on my neck even before I see myself (the awful ‘ching ching’ when you are still a cloud, and yes for me it feels like being jumped on).
    Over time I have learned to ..mentally ignore it and I will not respond at all untill I am ready and ‘transitioned’…it has been perceived as rude ( with IM’s as: ‘hey, are you busy already, but you just logged in?! ‘or ‘are you ignoring me’?, the latter being indeed true..for a few mins!)

    Since I need the transition time myself, I would never IM someone upon seeing them login.Heck, there are times I do not IM friends at all, simply because I have nothing to say? Doesnt mean I ignore them or forgot about them…:)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is a good point about not being in contact with everybody everyday. If you think through the idea, doing so just wouldn’t be at all feasible. Can you imagine feeling compelled to contact everyone on your friend’s list every day just because you’re concerned they will think you are ignoring them if you don’t? That sounds like a job I’d need to hire an assistant for!


  5. I feel your pain and couldn’t agree more. I’m not a fan of the instant pounce from casual friends. My closest friends are allowed quite a lot of leeway.
    Funny tho…they rarely pounce 😉


  6. I need time to settle. I also have the ability of ignoring incoming IMs until I’ve settled and have no urgent matters in my hands. Only once I’m ready I’ll start replying. How they deal with it, is really not my issue. I make no apologies for sounding this cold. People have to understand that they’re not the center of the Universe (nor am I), and when you log in, you may have several things to take care of, such as customers requesting help, friends needing advice, etc. You shouldn’t need to apologize for having your routine.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment. As you might expect, I don’t see your response as cold at all. Way too many people confuse directness with coldness. I have found myself apologising for exactly this reaction I describe in my post in the past, and you’re right – good friends rarely expect the apology (and often won’t accept it), and friends that aren’t so good might instead take it as a signal you’re not really serious or behind what you say.


  7. Seems like everyone generally feels the same way. Give me a few minutes, damn it. Especially when I log in just after I get home from work… I need some time to figure out what’s going on around me. There is one person who is welcome to IM me the nano-second I log in, but even knowing that, we generally give each a minute or two to get acclimated from the real world to the virtual world before we pounce.

    My real life BFF, though, doesn’t get this. I get home from work about 15 minutes before her… so I’m walking in the door while she’s just getting bored sitting in traffic. She’ll call just to chit-chat and I’m all “jesus, can i greet the cats and kick my shoes off first?”

    I think it’s just courtesy… thinking about what the person you’re calling, or IMing, might be doing before you dial or IM or whatever.

    The world is so very busy… real world and virtual world. We all need those few moments of me time to get our bearings.


    1. I wonder how many things are like this, where we have certain needs that might seem unfriendly to others, where instead it’s not about the other at all? It’s worth exploring other areas of our lives where we misunderstand each others motives, and open our minds to the fact that we’re really not at all the same.


  8. I am also a slower transitioner. If someone IMs me immediately, I normally ignore it until I am fully rezzed, my notices are cleared, music stream is on and I am assured I can move around. I note that the IM has come in, but I don’t even peek at it until I am that settled. And I sometimes ignore it longer if I have boxes to open or notecards to read from my messages. I, also, never apologise for this behaviour. I have Auto Response turned on, so pretty much everyone who knows me also knows that they won’t necessarily get an immediate reply. I have never come across anything that has been said to me in an instant IM can’t wait those few minutes for my feet to be firmly planted and my head fully cleared.

    Great post, btw!


    1. Thanks Peep! And you’re right, there really are no emergencies in SL are there? Nothing that can’t wait another 10 minutes to address when you feel the time is right 🙂


  9. From a psychological phenomenon aspect I really enjoyed this post Becky.

    One of the things that I think shine clearly from your words and the responses is that clear communication of our personal needs is not only required but essential. Speaking out about what we require for our own enjoyment/relaxation or ritualistic settling is vital if we are to guard and respect our internal mechanisms for happiness. Being quiet should never be the option, even if hurt feelings occur. We are all adults and should by now be able to determine between someone giving you the cold shoulder so you disappear from their life and someone saying,” hey I need 10 minutes time to myself when I log in to find the ground and immerse into my life here”. For those that react badly to being told to wait .. maybe the next sentence should be, “grow up”.

    As for me, I have my little habits and oddities when logging into SL however I have to say I am a floater when it comes to how I feel about the instant IM. There are a few people, such as my SL family who I will happily ding immediately if I see them log in, or happily received their ding if it is me logging in last. My friends list is not one of great length for I am pretty ruthless on the unnecessary cull method so those who are on the list know I will answer a hello usually immediately but further sentences may take a moment or two or five as I complete my settle in phase. As for me IM’ing others (aside family) as they log in, rarely happens these days as I currently never emerge from my inventory and are often oblivious to who has logged in or for that matter .. out.


    1. I often see Second Life as a laboratory for exploring human social relationships and I see this as an example of how unable we are at times to communicate clearly. I admit that I have stayed silent to avoid confrontation, but it only ever deepens the resentment in the end. It’s always so much better to be upfront and let the dice fall where they may. Some will take issue, and that’s their prerogative, and in many ways is a good way of determining who gets you and who does not.


  10. Pingback: My Own Space | Zee
  11. I guess I kind of transitioned out of SL. I can’t seem to find the time or much enthusiasm to hang out anymore! I’d love to get creative there again one day but real life has me creatively busy too. And yes a slow transition is easier in every life. When are you doing a new production? I keep checking on that one!!


  12. There is a mirror dysfunction at the end of other people’s days. “I’m off”>POOF before anyone else gets to say goodbye or have a nice day. Otherwise polite and friendly folks who won’t take even one minute before they go. Drives me crazy.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I have an instant IM’r in my friends list. Just one really and over the long time Ive known her I think i developed a coping mechanisim! I have a canned response that I reply with that requires almost no thought on my part. My response made, I have a few moments to settle in, gather my thoughts, clean up my screen and slide into SL.

    Liked by 1 person

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