A friend of mine was telling me the symptoms of being a social-phobic: difficulty in breathing, discomforts while being with a crowd. As a result, my friend usually acts as a quiet listener/observer when many people are around. Yet for my friend, it is not as difficult to express thoughts and communicate with people if these things are done over the Internet. This brings up an interesting experiment: if people with social-phobia in the real world could actually communicate and express themselves quite well in social virtual worlds such as Second Life, There, or perhaps even while playing in children-oriented virtual environments such as Disney's Toontown, then can they still be called social-phobics, or perhaps they are simply just unused to the physical aspects of human interactions, while being fully capable in engaging meaningful, perhaps even diverse modes of social interactions?
A bigger issue related to this question involves how we define ourselves and our relations with the world around us. Usually how we act, perform to expectations, or interact with others, depends not just on the external entities (people, animals, environments) involved, but also how we perceive ourselves at the moment: whether we're good or bad, pretty or ugly, smart or dumb, capable or ineffective, etc. In other words, what we do often can be the results of the interplay between our sense of identities and the external entities. It would not be surprising that once a different identity is assumed, behaviors can be dramatically different.
Yet, multiple identities are in fact not foreign to us. All of us have multiple identities at different times of the day, depending on who we're interacting with, what the social atmosphere is, or simply what moods we're having. What today's virtual worlds and related technologies offer, perhaps, are additional and more diverse ways to assume various identities and explore who we are in previously unavailable ways.
If my friend finds that social interactions in virtual worlds, perhaps even ones involving large crowds, are easily handled, we might then be able to look at other ways where traditionally undesirable personal or psychological traits, could in fact be given new meanings, with the help of new methods to explore our identities.