Humanoid Shape Needed for Social Interaction?

Earlier this week in Second Life I acquired an avatar shape in the form of a glowing, flying orb. One of the intrigueing things I find myself doing when I am in a 3D environment with avatars is look them in the eye, to feel more connected to the interaction going on.
Traveler Screenshot
In DigitalSpace Traveler avatars are heads only, but I look them in the eye and accept them as beings
So I wanted to check out what happens when I leave the humanoid form, and turned myself into an orb.
I met up with a creative designer from New York yesterday evening who did not seem to care much about my shape, to be able to communicatie. But he treated the text window as a stand alone chat application, and the 3D backdrop as wall paper in a sense.
Me as an Orb in SL
Me as an Orb in Second Life
It did change the dynamics though of having a discussion with people who actually know me. In a conversation with Elmine Wijnia and Gerrit Eicker I changed into my fiery flying orb-self and continued to take part in the conversation. Both Elmine and Gerrit remarked that they treated the orb as an object in the room, not a living entity, and that my chat contributions seemed to come out of thin air.
For me it felt a bit strange as well, looking at the orb as ‘me’ but it did not change the experience of interaction. The form of avatar does change the way I navigate though. With a humanoid shape I tend to fly and walk in SL, but as an orb I only fly.

2 thoughts on “Humanoid Shape Needed for Social Interaction?

  1. Jim

    Ton, Interesting. In working with Traveler I have found presence as a facial avatar very engaging. Your experiences with the orb leads me to think of how we read someone as being present in an exchange. Is it part of a new literacy; the interactive sign, the fluid text? Nice to read you again..

  2. Ton

    Hi Jim,
    Thanks for commenting! Your question towards a new literacy is intriguing. Bryan Alexander adds some additional thoughts as well.
    In a private conversation earlier this week I also wondered if our accepted social behaviour and expectations in a virtual environment will change over time.
    If you look at Second Life now most of it looks like a well kempt suburbia, and does not really build on the features specific to SL. Would conventions we developed IRL, including notions about what is or isn’t intrusion of your personal space start shifting over time, adapting to the peculiarities of SL? (E.g. would we consder it as much invasion of personal space if someone hovers directly above us, in stead of standing in your face?)
    Someone else in that conversation remarked on these shifts and expectations working both ways: he found he wanted to insert smileys into f2f conversations.
    Hope all is well up there in Umea!

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