Avatars - no, not the blue furries
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Thread: Avatars - no, not the blue furries

  1. #1
    Registered User Exalted Member Fireand'chutes77's Avatar
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    Avatars - no, not the blue furries

    I'm reading a very interesting article about online avatars and the meaning of connection and self, with connection to "Ghost in the Shell." (No pre-knowledge of GitS required to understand the article)

    http://www.freesoftwaremagazine.com/node/1713

    It’s well-known that the way that people choose to appear online is distinct from physical appearance, and this is often perceived as some kind of falsehood. But honestly, for someone you’ve never met, which is their “real” face?

    ......We are already experiencing some of the identity crisis of GitS. Even though we are not explicitly violating the brain-body connection, it is clear that we often extend ourselves beyond our physical bodies. As I write this, I am not conscious of the keyboard and monitor. In fact, thinking about them makes it more difficult to type. In the most natural mode of composition, they simply disappear, becoming extensions of my body. Communicating by text in the virtual world is in that sense, very like talking.

    ...For centuries we have relied on books and other external memories, but the Internet, through the ease of searching, has invaded our actual thought processes. There are things I think I know, but I don’t. What I know is how to instantly retrieve them when my global external memory is attached. As I become reliant on this kind of extended identity, losing my Internet connection is like a lobotomy—I feel an almost physical sense of loss as a portion of my intelligence is removed. I’ve become dependent on a new brain center that isn’t located inside of my body.

    Meanwhile, the reverse is happening as well. Even if there are biological nerves, arms, and fingers involved in the interface, we are still connecting our brains to our digital presences on the Net, and we use avatars of various kinds when we do that.

    ....Many [forums] allow “avatars” to be used which are simply small static pictures —usually of faces or face-like pictures. In these fora, emotional content is still transmitted by emoticons, although they frequently take the form of graphical smilies, rather than the ASCII art ones we are used to from usenet.
    Yet, even here, the power of the avatar as an identity is stronger than you might think. After all it’s just a little 100100 picture, why should I even care about it? Yet, an avatar is far more personal and expressive than a username. It’s also instantly recognizable, like a face. You learn to recognize your friends, so that you immediately know who’s speaking and you subconsciously provide context to what they say.

    On one forum, avatars are used as “seniority badges” for new users: there are a series of classes between 1 and 1000 posts.... There is a fair correlation between “post count” and “real experience”. I was brand new at web forums (though I’d been using mailing lists and usenet for many years) when I first joined, and I was really surprised at the degree of motivation that those silly little pictures provided. Even I felt it.

    ....People know your online “face”, and respond to it. They associate it with the kinds of posts that you make, and they learn to consider what you say much more in a total context of who they think you are. People feel like they “know” you. It wasn’t long before I became a moderator on this forum, and so my personal identity is much more important to users who want to know what I’m up to, how I’m likely to react, and who “don’t want me sneaking up on them”, as one poster put it.

    ....Still, I’m not always sure if I’d rather be known by my physical face or my avatar.

    ....But what I couldn’t get over was the idea that O’Gara apparently thought that any of what she was writing was relevant, because I already know who Pamela Jones is: she’s the person who runs Groklaw. I’ve sparred with her in words online, and found her site an invaluable resource of information. I already feel a connection as personal there as I need to get (not that that’s a lot). To me, Pamela Jones looks like a “big-eyed, red-haired woman wearing a red dress while SCO sinks behind her”. Maybe when the whole SCO case is over she’ll delete the SCO “Titanic” part of that drawing, but I hope she keeps the face.

    If in the physical world, Ms. Jones is physically a “91 year old woman in New York” or a “40 year old guy in Maine” or a “25 year old woman in California” just doesn’t matter to me. Why should I regard that as any more real than the person I know online? I’ve met a few people offline who I first knew online, and in general, it’s been a non-plussing experience. I’d just as soon go back to chatting with them electronically and forget the “real” person. There’s very few exceptions.

    Not that I feel it’s good to misrepresent reality—I’m always quick to remind posters that, “I am not in fact a girl with purple hair”. But isn’t it really the “ghost” we care about, not the “shell”, be it virtual or physical?
    Thoughts? How do we all "see" each other? I know we change our sig pics and avatars around somewhat often, but usually if I think about, say, TWD, I get the image of a space helmet in my head instead of an actual human face. After a time on the forums, I get my own visual images and vocal inflections of you all, and it is rather odd when you physically describe yourselves. (Recent example - Jeriddian saying he needs to lose weight jarred with my mental image of a surprisingly computer-literate 50-something who looks rather dashing in his white doctor's coat. As a result, that conflicting bit of info was deftly erased from my consciousness to preserve my preexisting worldview. :P)
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  2. #2
    Administrator Honored Elder jeriddian's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fireand'chutes77 View Post
    Thoughts? How do we all "see" each other? I know we change our sig pics and avatars around somewhat often, but usually if I think about, say, TWD, I get the image of a space helmet in my head instead of an actual human face. After a time on the forums, I get my own visual images and vocal inflections of you all, and it is rather odd when you physically describe yourselves. (Recent example - Jeriddian saying he needs to lose weight jarred with my mental image of a surprisingly computer-literate 50-something who looks rather dashing in his white doctor's coat. As a result, that conflicting bit of info was deftly erased from my consciousness to preserve my preexisting worldview. :P)
    A very nice and thought provoking piece. Not to disrupt your view of me any further, but there was a time I think I could have been considered somewhat "dashing". But after my training was over, I refused to ever wear a white coat anymore. In fact, the AMA is now recommending doing away with them altogether due their tendency to remain unwashed and therefore being a source of carrying infection around.

    But you've very intuituvely recognized how different from actual reality is the face we all present when we post online and interact with others. I wonder how this would project even further into the future if (and likely actually the right word should be 'when') motion capture technology gets so sophisticated and easy to do along with 3D imagery that we can literally engage each other in real time in the virtual world in our avatar bodies, and then suddenly we are in a Matrix like existence, or the Holodeck of Star Trek, or something similar, several incarnations of which have been imagined, and which we have all seen in the entertainment world.
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