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.