Is Voice Chat Necessarily a Great Thing?

Pietro Maracas pietro.maracas at
Thu Mar 30 08:33:47 PST 2006

Several people have commented about the need for voice chat in SL.
While I think this would be useful for some applications, it would
also change other relationships, and not necessarily for the better.
I'll list a few possibilities below, but for more information on this,
I would suggest you read the seminal work:

Walther, J. (1996). Computer-mediated communication: Impersonal,
interpersonal, and hyperpersonal interaction. Communication Research,
23(1), 3-43.

Voice communicates more social information than text. Voice might
reveal gender, racial, ethnic, or cultural information which is not so
readily communicated with text. A person with a "sexy" or "squirrely"
voice might be accepted/rejected differently than in a text-chat.
Emotions, such as boredom and anger, are more difficult to conceal
with voice. Basically, voice-chat allows less selective revelation of
one's self, which Walther's considers one explanation for
hyperpersonal relationships--that is, virtual relationships that are
more satisfying than similar face-to-face relationships.

Also, voice can require greater mental processing and attentiveness
than text. No chat history is readily available in most voice-chat
systems, so you must attend to the current conversation. Unlike
text-chat, where long pauses between responses are accepted, faster
replies are usually expected in a voice conversation, so you have less
time to construct a thoughtful reply. Because verbal qualities, such
as intonation and pace, communicate information as well as the spoken
words, you must interpret that information in addition to the words
themselves. It would be more difficult to have multiple simultaneous
voice-chats like you can have numerous text-chats now.

So, I disagree with the blanket statement that SL would be better with
voice-chat. It would be different, but each communication technology
has its own affordances and constraints which should be considered
before applying it to a specific problem. With that, I must
hypocritically return to learning our new web-conferencing system
which allows voice chat.  ;o)

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