Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Who the hell are we anyway?

From the Washington Post:

People spend more of their lives online -- the average American Internet user spends 80 hours a month online at work and 30 hours at home, according to Nielsen-NetRatings -- and Web-based interactions are evolving to look less like word-based messaging and more like facsimiles of physical existence. Tens of millions of Internet users have online doppelgangers they design to act as their proxy online -- communicating, shopping and socializing on their behalf and expressing themselves through humanoid gestures, voices and facial expressions.

People meet and develop real relationships through their avatars, speaking to one another through instant-messaging systems, expressing joy by making their characters dance and expressing love by instructing their avatars to kiss. Some meet, date and even marry solely online -- without ever expecting to meet their mate in person.

In the virtual world, cartoon-like avatars appear with their screen names above their heads. Avatars breathe on their own but can be instructed to walk, run, sit or turn. As they encounter other avatars, they talk through messages that appear in bubbles above their heads, shaking their head when the user types "no" and laughing when he or she types "lol" (laugh out loud)...

Users invest in them, literally, spending real money in exchange for fake currency that allows them to clothe, house and accessorize their avatars. Eventually, experts say, avatars may become the primary way computer users recognize one another online, whether they are using instant messaging or surfing the Web...

Avatar, a concept from Hindu mythology that means "the incarnation of a god," is an age-old concept that entered computer lingo in the 1960s but only recently has become a mass-cultural phenomenon. Now, 90 percent of America Online instant messengers use some form of avatar -- either a static image or a more advanced, 3-D "super buddy" that moves, laughs, shouts or talks in response to what's being typed in the message systems...

Over time, avatars may follow their creators around on different programs, such as a name tag that pops up on instant messages, on Web logs...

I was thinking of doing a riff on George W. Bush- how, despite what we "know" about him, he is not the icon of liberty the right makes him to be, nor is he the incompetent Dr. Evil-demographic jackboot dictator the left makes him out to be (not that he's not venal, of course...)

George W. Bush, in other words, is an avatar we create with our own minds based on what people - some of whom have noble ends and some of whom have base ends- have constructed, and we've read, watched, seen commented on, etc. George W. Bush, of course, has played a big part in the creation of the "avatar" of George W. Bush, and holds primary responsibility for that character. (Is he like "Max Headroom" of the 80s? A real person? Could that not be done today?)

We can't will George W. Bush back into the more imaginary and fantasy aspects of maya; that genie's out of the bottle, and the cultural metaphors are inextricably mixed.

Yet all of this misses a point, that is, there's something left out both on my George W. Bush is an avatar riff and the WaPo's avatar riff: we all have a vested interested in presenting ourselves, pseudonymical or in flesh and blood and bricks and mortar, with a degree of versimilitude. When you bullshit folks all the time there's simply too many balls in the air to keep track.

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