The Avatar as the New Self
If you’ve watched the Facebook April 17 presentation on Facebook Spaces [https://newsroom.fb.com/news/2017/04/facebook-spaces/], their now functional virtual social world, then the concept of the avatar should come to mind. That Facebook sees avatars as the new platform for social communication and dialog is telling on a number of levels. If nothing else, it should certainly reawaken interest Second Life and its new version Sansar.
But at a more basic level it brings us back to the whole issue of realities and the increasingly artificial distinction between physical reality, social realities and digital realities which we’ve looked at this semester.
In the traditional (say pre-1995 w0rld), physical-social reality were cohesive and intertwined. Your individual sense of who and what you were (your internalized self) was largely driven by the input of others. Identity and image were largely a result of externalized forces. Self-expression and self-identity were constrained by the demands and expectations of others, and the internal ego was largely limited to art and literature (diaries anyone?). The sense of being “trapped” by the demands and expectations of the ‘real world’ were dominant.
In the contemporary early 21st century world social reality has moved into the digital and has largely become divorced from physical reality. They now compete for time and attention. Given the asynchronous nature of social media, this has allowed the growth of self-identity into social reality. Your individual sense of who and what you are now drives how you image and present yourself in social media, and how others perceive you. Identity and image are now largely the result of ego-based choice. Given the essentially limitless ability to find a group of like-minded people to support you, you can find public acceptance of who you want to be seen as.
But the digital is not the same as the physical. Being part of a group and social network doesn’t mean you have anyone to hang out with at the beach, go drinking together–all those activities which require physical co-presence. With the increasing popularity of Augmented Reality platforms, the need for physical co-presence may become less of an issue. You can interact with your physical surroundings while interacting digitally–digital co-presence without physical co-presence. The implications for group membership, group identity, relationships–all these will change as technology continues to impact on our social lives in changing ways.
Social interaction, social identity and realities in general are changing. Into what is the question.