The latest version of the Second Life (SL) client has brought voice chat to the virtual world. There has been an amazing amount of debate (check out the SLED mailing list) about the use of voice in Second Life and what voice will do to the experience of using a virtual world where users are represented by an avatar that may have little or no connection to who they are in the "real world".
Will voice enhance or take away from the SL experience? It will certainly change it - I guess it will be the users who will determine the effects of voice chat. One thing that it has done already is caused interface changes in SL, which took some getting use to (my God I am a creature of habit!!). Many people are of the opinion that voice will add to the educational power of SL because users will be able to engage in conversations that are voice driven giving perhaps a better idea of who you are talking to and what they really mean. Just as many feel that it will take away from conversations and learning - I mean if you are talking to a beautiful female avatar who sounds like Jimmy Durante when they talk, that might have an effect on the conversation and the message.
All this debate about voice in a virtual world has me thinking about voice in the real world. The other day my best friend told me that I had a great "radio" voice - that surprised me because the voice I hear in my head when I speak doesn't sound like that to me. What are the implications of using voice to communicate? Much of my day to day communication these days is text-based - e-mails, chats, Facebook, instant messaging, text messages and so on. One of the complaints about text is that you can miss the nuances or intent of the message. Does voice get rid of this issue or add another layer? Is voice our preferred method of communication? Do you need to see the person(s) you are talking with so that you can see their body language to get the full meaning of what they are saying? Do any of our ways of communicating - text, voice, sight, sound individually give us the full meaning of a conversation, or do we need them all together to really understand a conversation?
These questions have great implications for us as educators, particularly as we move away from traditional classroom-based delivery where we have the full meal deal of voice, text, and sight, to alternate and distance delivery methods where we will probably have text, may have voice, but probably not sight. Can you really know someone who you have only texted with? I hope so, because I have people that I have met online and consider friends, but I have never actually spoken to them or seen them. This will become more and more common in the future.
So are these people whose voices we never hear less important or less relevant than those whose voice we do? I don't think so - ideas and points of view can be expressed without using voice, but we will all have to become better at expressing ourselves non-verbally, or we will lose the opportunity of meeting some pretty amazing people.
So if I never hear your voice, do you exist? Hmmm...
(Photo - "Elephant Talk" by gin_able)