Trust in virtual worlds

It is amazing how we trust people online with so little to base that trust on. Trust is built even though we've never met each other in real life, even though we don't know much about the other person's background, even though we don't know what the other person looks like or sounds like, and, in most cases, even though we don't know the other person's real identity.

Trust is based on our interactions with the other person. It is based on our intuitions. It is based on our assumptions about the other person.

There is nothing more unfounded than the trust we give a stranger. Yet, somehow, we offer that trust. It's a trust in humanity itself. It is a trust that they are as trustworthy as we are. And most people prove themselves worthy of that trust.

Naturally, unbounded trust opens the door to deception. There will be a small minority who would take advantage of that trust and use it to benefit themselves to the detriment of the other person. That is true in real life as well, but virtual worlds - and the internet, in general, - make it easier for scammers.

However, developing trust is crucial in business relationships in real life and is just as critical in virtual worlds, if not more so. But how does one develop trusting relationships with other people in a virtual world? Networking. Interacting. Conversing. Sharing experiences. Creating experiences. It's how we develop our intuition about people. It's how we get a feel for their trustworthiness.

Just like in real life. But more cautiously.

Do you speak English?

One of the great things about Second Life is the opportunity to chat with people around the world from different backgrounds. Since Linden Lab is based in the US, the default language in SL has been English, although there is a large number of sims that are primarily Italian or French or German or another language.

Most people, however, tend to speak English when conversing with people who don't speak their own language. Or they use the Babbler, which is a popular (but primitive) inworld translator using web-based dictionaries.

However, it is all too easy to assume that you're getting your point across just because you're both speaking English. Idioms, metaphors, and cultural references make our language more descriptive and help us communicate better. But when the other party does not understand the idioms, metaphors, and cultural references, the message becomes blurred instead.

Before the holidays, Poid Mahovlich was telling me about her Christmas jumper and how it was making her feel itchy. In the US, a "jumper" is an overall, typically a loose denim pair of pants with a bib-like top in front and two straps to go around the back. Apparently, a jumper is a thick knitted top with sleeves that you pull over your head, what US people call a "sweater."

When I advertised my 3D Tic-Tac-Toe, Absolut Paine (also from the UK) asked me if tic-tac-toe was the same as the game Noughts-And-Crosses. And after doing some research, I found out that it was.

The techniques we learn in communication classes -- clarifying what the other person meant, avoiding assumptions, giving the other person the benefit of a doubt -- are even more important in online communications. It takes longer, yes, but a misunderstanding that's corrected early saves time and effort in the long run.