On-line involvement/immersion rating system

A conceptual tool: a system for describing how much of oneself is really present in virtual-space.

When you're online chatting with your friends, how involved are you in the experience? Does it matter if you're typing through the catbox, IRC or ICQ, AIM or your favorite MU*, a webchatter, telnet talker or graphically represented world? Does it matter what else you're doing, what you have to say, or who you're talking to? Can you hear your friend's voices in your head, or see their faces in your mind's eye?

Personal Experiences (skip them if you like)

My first experiences with realtime communication on-line were with someone I was in love with. I was 13 and he 16 and we talked on his BBS every night. My door was closed, my lights were out and the only program open was the terminal. Black background, green text. We'd both been touch typing since age five and playing with computers since.

The result was an immersion experience, at times better than getting lost in the best work of fiction I've ever read. The imagined space that we occupied was clearly defined, a nexus with its own rules and etiquette. It was a world that was represented concisely, ASCII text transmitting information that was expanded by shared assumptions and shared experiences. (This experience is why I find the virtual reality described in True Names to be so believable). When I was completely focused, as was usually the case, I would sometimes forget for hours that I was actually sitting in my bedroom, a human girl, all alone.

Our little world was a treasured cliche, faintly glowing, bright green gridlines stretching forever in all directions. Blackness above and below. The grid was solid and smooth, but not slippery, like smooth tiles with no cracks. I could go on in some detail about the worlds that we created there and how we did so. I remember so clearly because I was there, and I cared.

We spent about 4-6 hours a night together those first two years, and rarely were we distracted from each other. WWIV's chat program and our own imaginations were enough for us to communicate effectively, enough to maintain a relationship. We role-played ourselves dozens of times, exploring facets of our personalities, each other's feelings, values, and desires. We talked about our daily lives and discussed ideas and projects we had. We explored our young sexuality gently, virtual touch by virtual kiss.

When I was 15 or 16, we were no longer a local phone call apart. Things changed. We expanded into the internet. Some of the simplicity was lost, but in its place were worlds already described with inhabitants with real people behind them. We set up residence on FurryMUCK. We had mutual friends. I had other friends other places as well, and distractions multiplied as we'd keep multiple windows open at once.

Fast forward: The first year I spent at college I was on-line infrequently, since real life held great fascination in a new place with new people and much to do. Being around real people, watching them use computers, I noticed that others seemed to take online chats casually. Even when these were with close friends or romantic interests. People chat while doing other things--carrying on completely different conversations with RL people, reading, webbrowsing, schoolwork, etc. The emotions people express online, laughing or smiling or yelling or shrugging, often don't seem to relate to the emotions they're expressing in real life. Attempts to establish a context for expressive interaction were absent.

None of these things are bad--there's much in real life to hold one's attention, and I understand the need to multitask--but they are notable in that they came as something of a surprise to me. An experience (mine) that I had thought was fairly common may actually be fairly unusual.

Involvement while chatting is not always readily apparent, nor easy to describe and discuss. Nonetheless, it is an essential aspect of chatting. Thus I think it would be useful to have a shorthand system with which to express one's level of involvement at a particular time while chatting online.

This system is descriptive, and may even be of use to those who research communication on-line.

Brief verbal descriptions are used in the hopes of making the system more human. I propose that these be client specific, that is, the numbers are transmitted between clients, and the users choose what words (if any) represent them.

Part 1 - Involvement
0 - "Away" - away
1 - "Just Present" - online; may disappear without warning, may be heavily doing something else (schoolwork, coding, conversation, movie watching)
2 - "Casual" - light distraction: sometimes talking to another person or doing 1 - 2 other moderate things (snacking, web browsing)
3 - "On-Line" - entirely on-line, attending to no more than 4 info windows.
4 - "Involved" - personally involved in on-line discussion, has taken effort to minimize outside distractions (verbal, visual, auditory, task-related, schedule-related), interacting with well-known people.
5 - "Committed" - one window open. Has taken absolute effort to minimize outside distractions (lights off, leave me alone, gone to the bathroom and gotten comfortable, I can stay here all night if I need to.)

Part 2 - Immersion
(0) - "Disembodied" - no actions, does not notice actions
(1) - "Monoemotic" - Smilies. One-words. ::wink:: ::giggle:: ::hug::
(2) - "Line Actions" - bodies defined, more than one word descriptions ::strokes your wings::
(3) - "Embodied" - bodies and space defined and up-to-date. ::sits next to you on the couch, reaching out to feel the fabric of the cape you are wearing today::
(4) - "In a world" - like (3), but heavily used and kept constantly in mind. ::hears the door open and glances up as someone steps in front of the light of the fireplace::
(5) - "Immersed" - constantly aware of full details of virtual environment; will automatically seek to fill in gaps in information or inconsistancies. {What does your cape look like?} (The cape is shimmery blue and catches the light. It feels soft and fluid in your hands.) "I got it at the shop up the street. Want to go later tonight?" Should be possible for anyone present to sketch the environment, were they to so desire.

An example of how involvement ratings and some other useful to know info might be software implemented in a MU*ish environment.

@poke Julieclipse.
Julieclipse has been on for 3.5 hours and has been idle for 42 seconds.
Julieclipse is level 5(2), Committed(Line Actions) with Pseudomammal : please do not disturb

@poke Vruba
Vruba has been on for 6 hours and has been idle for 2 minutes
Vruba is level 3(1), Casual(Monoemotic) : web-browsing verse forms

Examples of conversational use:

Starx: Wow, my mom just told me something pretty... heavy... can we level four?
DemiG: Absolutely, let me just get the door and close up netscape.

InDiegurl: Hi! Anyone awake? I'm bored.. :/
Shell: Hey Indie... I'm just level one tonight.

Polybox: What's up with you and SamGenesis?
Cobra: We've been spending a lot of 5(5) time. He's such a good writer.