Why I don’t use voice in SL


I wrote this a little while back, but it’s still pretty much accurate. The topic came up over on Plurk the other minute, and I thought I should post it here as well as inworld, for when I’m (well) here rather than inworld.

It’s a bit outdated, using funny old meanings of words like “immersionist” and “extensionist” (I think I may have accidentally made that one up trying to remember “augmentationist”), and worrying more seriously about voice fragmenting the community than I would today (because for whatever reason that doesn’t seem to be an active problem right now anyway), but it still accurately reflects my views. Comments are more than welcome!

by Dale Innis
Version 1
23 July 2007

I don’t currrently use voice in Second Life, and I don’t except to be using it (except maybe in business meetings) in the near to middling future. Lots of ppl have asked me why I don’t, and since the explanation is long an’ involved I thought I’d like write it down on a notecard like this one here. There are actually a whole buncha reasons; here are some of ’em in no particular order.

1) I’m not alone in RL.
Quite often when I’m in SL, I’m around other people in RL; either there are other folks that live here in the same room doing their own things, or there’s someone sleeping on the other side of a none-too-thick wall, or whatever. It would be too rude for words (not to mention sometimes really embarassing) to be carrying on voice conversations in SL with RL folks around. One exception to this is when I’m at work or otherwise willing to sequester myself away the way that I would for a business teleconference; so this objection doesn’t apply to RL business meetings, say.

2) I’m an immersionist.
Which is to say, I consider SL to be a world of its own, rather than a sort of “networking” extension to RL. (I once read some clueless mundane refer to SL as a “business networking site”: I larfed and larfed.) There are at least five AVs that I use on a more or less regular basis; it would not imho make sense for the adult woman, the adult man, the little boy, the little girl, and the Pandaren Brewmaster from Warcraft III (the Frozen Throne expansion) all to talk with my RL voice. Voice-morphing software isn’t yet up to the task; it might be someday, at which point this part of this objection goes away.

There’s a similar problem with background noises; it’s really offputting when the President of the Imperial Council is about to make an important and solemn announcement, and suddenly the entire kids’ birthday party comes in from the RL pool behind him and starts whooping it up. Push-to-talk doesn’t really solve this problem. It’s probably not a killer all by itself, but it’s another straw.

Again there’s an RL business-meeting exception to this part, in that when I’m in an RL business meeting, I’m perforce being something of an extensionist, and I can just wear a form that goes more or less well with my RL voice, and RL background noises seeping in are only annoying, not reality-breaking.

3) Voice is single-threaded.
I can carry on three or four (or five or six, if I’m really in the zone) conversations at once in text chat an’ IM. Not gonna happen with voice, clearly.

4) Text favors the rational; voice favors the loud
Similar to (3), since only one person can really be talking in a voice venue at a time, voice favors the loud and pushy and aggressive. On the other hand everyone can talk at once in text, and the obnoxious are just ignored. I don’t really like being dominated by loud pushy ppl. On the other hand rational an’ polite ppl are pretty reluctant to use the mute button against anyone who isn’t actually violating TOS; mute has v anti-social effects.

5) Can’t scroll or search or archive voice
I save all chat an’ IM. I can figure out easily who that was I was talking to about sculpties last week. I can scroll back in any given conversation to see if I missed anything in (say) the conversation in the dance club while I was talking in the Scripters of Second Life IM channel. Voice enables none of this.

6) I like music
One wonderful thing about text chat is that I can be in a club with the music just as loud as I want, and I can stil be talking to the other ppl who are there with no difficulty. With voice, do we sort of shout over the music? Or turn off or down the music while we talk? Or what?

7) We can’t all talk (comprehensibly), or hear (well)
I’m somewhat shy in RL. Part of this is because ppl don’t understand me when I talk; when I talk to someone new in RL the first reply is usually “Huh?”. I talk too fast, I mumble. Other ppl want to communicate in languages that aren’t their first, or can read but not hear. (Text-to-speech is much easier than speech-to-text.) Voice disenfranchises all of those ppl to some extent (varying from a little bit, for me, to quite a lot, for the deaf). It’s possible that there are some people that voice enfranchises over text; but given how visual the rest of SL is, those ppl are probably not here (yet?) anyway.

There are some other reasons, but I think these’ll do for now I think. :)


Now really if you live alone an’ aren’t the kind of immersionist that I am an’ only want to carry on one conversation at a time an’ don’t need to search or scroll back in conversations an’ don’t mind having to compete conversationally with other folks an’ are good at talking an’ hearing an’ don’t mind talking over the music, then I should say go ahead an’ use voice all you like an’ more power to you.

But, well…

I have most of the same concerns about voice fragmenting the community that Gwyneth does, and that she expresses better than I’m going to here:


If I don’t use voice, and you do, we may well end up not talking. Now that’s not really really awful at first glance; if half the ppl use voice an’ half don’t, that means I have maybe 40,000 ppl I can talk to instead of 80,000. Given that I’m probably not going to get around to too many thousand anyway that’s perhaps not a huge difference.

But still.

What if most new people coming in sort of start with voice by default, without realizing that anyone does anything else? Some of them will encounter the problems above, maybe, and switch to text if they happen to run across texters. Others may give up an’ leave. Others will stay an’ be voice users. And all the people in that latter two categories I maybe don’t get to talk to. And that would be too bad!

’cause I like talking to ppl…

So that’s all for now. Responses an’ replies an’ thoughts an’ chocolate are all mos’ welcome.

Hogs and quiches to all,

12 Responses

  1. Definitely, chocolate! Thanks for this quite interesting article — and it’s not dated at all!

    In fact, over the past year or so where we have been using voice (or refusing to do so), I think that your biggest argument is really 1. People are *so* surprised when I give that as an “excuse”, but… I cannot be in my room and yell at a microphone, saying “are you listening to me? Hello? Hi, is this working?” (which is how 50% of the voice calls work in SL…)

    In my experience, there is a die-hard voice-only community emerging in SL. They have to live in bunkers with audio suppression panelling on their walls. They have US$500 microphones and a training in sound engineering to get crystal-clear audio quality. They most certainly don’t have neighbours complaining about the noise, or kids around the house, or a partner trying to sleep on the next room.

    And they all have lovely voices, perfect for radio or TV, with suave pronounciation, a delightful, clear accent, and loads of charisma on top of their voices.

    No wonder they love it.

    I have none of that. I have an awful voice, and always did. If I send out a recording of my voice, it has to go through an audio filtering application to make it a bit more understandable (people still complain), so I gave up doing that. My microphones — and I have three — never work. There is noise on the street, noise at home, noise everywhere. The poor iMac struggles with the audio and adds its own sputtering and rasping on top of everything; people say that I sound like I’m under water, sniffing nitrous oxide, and on a bad mobile phone call. Then I have an awful accent, a cross between Russian and Middle-Eastern, mumbling words all the way, and sometimes speaking too slow, sometimes too fast. What can I do? I’m not an actress, nor a politician, nor a singer. I wasn’t born to have a lovely voice like the voice fans have. And, naturally, I’m rather self-conscious about that. I will never be able to match their tone, clarity, and charisma on my voice…

    As for business, well, I guess that’s a question which might work or not for some. At our office, it’s so silent, that you can hear a pin fall on the ground. So people take calls outside the office, in respect for the colleagues who are focused on their work. This would mean moving my Mac to one of the meeting rooms to pick up “a phone call in SL”. It might work. I never tried. I let our CEO speak through SL, he has a lovely voice and he tends to impress customers, specially if the customer is a woman… :)

  2. Thanks much for the comments, Gwyneth! Yeah, #1 has always turned out to be pretty much determinative for me, regardless of all the others.

    Another thing that I’ve noticed as I’ve listen to voice and taken part a little, that didn’t occur to me when I wrote this, is that we’re alot more INANE in voice. What might be:

    You: and a panda!
    Fred: lol
    Amy: :P

    in chat might be more like:

    “and a panda” “hahaha” “oh haha” “a what?” “did you really say that?” “he said a panda.” “hahaha” “a panda?” “oh that’s awful” “hahahah” “hahaha” “a panda, that’s a good one” “woo” “yeah, hahaha” “you loser” “hey!” “hahaha” “yeah, a panda, damn!” “hahaha”

    in voice. The tiny threshold of having to consciously type seems to filter out alot of basically value-free utterances, that don’t get filtered out of voice at all.

    Same reason I don’t like alot of podcasts; with all the shuffling of papers and sighing and laughing at his own jokes and coughing and repeating himself and all, it takes a podcaster like five times as long to voice his words as it would have taken me to read them as text.

    Something like that, anyway…

  3. Very relevant post even 1 year later. I don’t use voice for many of the reasons you mentioned. For me the PITA factor (pain in the arse factor) is just too high. It’s a pain to get working and sounding good. I’d end up waking my young children sleeping close by. I can’t follow more than one spoken conversation at once. And those nasty pregnant pauses when no one knows who should talk. I’ve run across those that are militantly voice only, and I tend to just go the other way. It’s a big grid and there’s room for all of us.

  4. I don’t use voice, either, mainly for reason #1. At first I thought I would never want anyone to hear my voice. Now I don’t care so much and can foresee using it in certain situations with someone I’d like to talk to one-on-one. So I wouldn’t totally rule it out, but generally won’t be using it, either.

  5. Despite the fact I have on occasion used voice in SL, I would agree with all your reasonings. The only time I’ll really use it is when privately chatting with someone I actually know from RL (which only accounts for a few people).

    The one time I did use voice in public was hillarious though; I’d been using my female alt and helping to model at a fashion show, with the guy who was running it directing everyone by voice (in this instance, it was a lot easier, as it would have been a lot of typing).

    Come the end of the night, the rest of the girls in the show turned on voice to thank him, and I did the same. There was just a comedic silence as a deep mans voice came from Osiris, followed by the confused guy asking “Uhh, who was that?”. Really was quite priceless :)

  6. Another possible reason, at least for me, is that speaking English requires much more concentration than typing it. The posture also matters – as a lot of my SL use is during the evenings, spread out on a chair, I usually don’t bother.

    However, there are definitely times when voice is preferable – you can sort out possible misunderstandings in a business meeting much faster, for example.

    LOL Loaf :)

  7. So it’s been a year or more since you and Gwyneth voiced :-) your concerns. Did it happen? Have you lost friends? Is there a schism? Are there popular/common audio filtering mechanisms out there? Is land being marketed as “voice-enabled”?

    One part of Gwyneth’s article definitely reminded me of the documented reaction (because I am NOT that old to remember) of people when “movies” were first introduced, as opposed to silent films. In truth, many film stars WERE out of work because they had unpleasant voices.

    I just joined SL (tomorrow will be my 2 week anniversary) and I didn’t “realize” I was “supposed to be” using a microphone. I knew I could and I’ve been wondering if it was worth the investment. From what I’ve read today I would think that this is NOT worth an investment. #1 (not alone in RL when doing SL) is a major factor. I hadn’t actually envisioned how the microphone would work. RL noises would be an issue, not to mention one of my many pets puking at the most inopportune time. and #6 is oh-so-true for me. I hate having to yell over the music. I always come home from RL events w/ no voice the next day.

    I think, from my newbie perspective, that voice-interaction sounds :-) like a great idea. It seems to promise more intimacy, easier communication, fewer barriers. But one of the things I have learned in 14 days is that I really don’t want SL to be “just like RL”. If it were, I don’t have a need for SL. I can see already from juggling 4 IM boxes that voice would indeed hamper my ability to communicate with many people. Gwyneth’s comment on the inability of most people to carry on multiple separate voice conversations is also quite convincing. And as I read these posts and thought about it all I realized that I have difficulty hearing at times in RL. That is NOT going to get better via microphones and speakers and multiple sounds.

    And I think, Dale, that you are right on the mark with your comment about the inane nature of verbal conversations. I know that I think just a bit more carefully before I type something than I do before I say something. Not only that, but as I’m typing, I’m reading what I’m saying, which gives me the chance to edit it before the other person ‘hears’ it. I like having that second chance to say what I mean and say it, perhaps, better.

    So you’ve convinced! NOW can wehave the chocolate?

  8. All good questions! :) I definitely haven’t lost any friends over it, and I haven’t -noticed- a schism. On the other hand it’s possible that there’s a schism that I haven’t noticed, just because I never run into the voice-using folks at all. On the third hand :) I do bop around SL at random pretty often, and I can only remember one or two occasions where it turned out the people around me were using voice. Lots of land is in fact voice-enabled, but the use of voice in public seems relatively rare. I’ve also never had anyone ask if I could turn on voice for voice-IM purposes.

    Possibly lots of the people that I know are actively using voice, but when they see that I don’t have a white dot over my head they just fall back to text without saying anything. This doesn’t seem all that likely, though; someone would have mentioned it. :)

    It’s still early days, though, and the technology will presumably continue to improve. I suspect lots of people are put off by the fact that voice can still be a pain to get working, and the sound can be very (very) low quality. As it gets better, more and more people may start to use it. The same applies to voice-morph technology; I’ve seen and heard some, but it’s not very good yet. It will presumably improve.

    On the chocolate, YOU’RE supposed to give that to ME! :)

  9. I agree with you about the voice thing. It’s bad enough that I’m fast on the keyboard (if I carry on three IM conversations at once, it sounds like a machine-gun battalion at my desk due to all of the clackety-clacking.) That’s annoying enough for my poor husband as it is. Voice would just be ridiculous for me. As well, I can see your point about the inanity. This was pressed home to me when a friend of mine (with whom I normally use text), was trying out his new mic. He was using voice and I was using text. He just…wasn’t as witty. There was a lot more hemming and hawing and clearing of the throat, and I didn’t find him as interesting.
    So, I’m going to stick to the keyboard (but I may look for one of those flexible silicone ones — I think they’d be quieter.)

  10. […] They were, still / again, really interesting-looking, but unfortunately they were using Voice (ewww), and as well as eating lunch I was also listening to a teleconference so I couldn’t hook in […]

  11. […] don’t use voice to speak of (haha!) in Second Life, for pretty much all of the reasons I gave so long ago; but that doesn’t mean it’s all bad, and when good things happen I do like to mention […]

  12. Thats a decent blog post and certainly helped clear my mind a bit

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