Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Automobile Avatar

One thing I am convinced of at this point is that my rl is an analog avatar. The face and clothes that people see is me, of a sort, but it is a negotiation between the possible, the desirable, and the socially acceptable. This last is a very fragmented thing, because it includes what specific people I care about find acceptable, what the anonymous world will put up with, and my own inner fears of what the outside world thinks, which often turn out to be either imaginary and overblown, or on occasion not as expandable as I had hoped. My analog avatar is me in very deep ways, because it is interwoven with the physical body that my mind is embodied with it, but it is not me exactly. There are connections which are different from any virtual me, but it is connected with many virtual mes. If someone sees my rl name on a paper, and knows me from my public, such as it is, self, that is a virtual me as well. Someone who writes in a voice that is like what I hear in my head, but is not.

My sl avatar is not connected with eating and other things I must do with my rl. But on the other hand, it is more intimately connected with my creative self than my analog avatar is. I do not say much of what I think and feel in the name of my analog avatar, and I didn't really choose that avatar's name. I didn't entirely choose this one either, but I had as much of a negotiation with it, and a bit more control, than over the name I was born to analog.

So the proton person has certain claims to me that are unique, but they are not overwhelming in every way. The proton person can't wither away, but at the same time, there is a flowering that can only come from my digital self.

A great deal of what I feel about Second life comes from a simple reality of my life, and lives. That is that the happiness I have in this world largely comes form my digital self, and I am far from alone in this. And yet my proton person's reality is not reflected in this. I cannot yet sustain that proton person with the happiness I create digitally. But is this a matter of too soon? Or perhaps as with the "horseless carriage" in 1895, it is still too new to build a world around.

I think on my own understandings, one thing that strikes me about the horseless carriage, invented at various times, but first unequivocally show to the world in 1881, was that a myriad of details would have to change. A world of cars is a world where large bustled skirts are not welcome. Women's fashions can be said to be a gauge of the penetration of the car in ways that mens' fashions really are not. And the change for us was double: the need to be able to move in and out of cars came attached to the more general ability to move around. The wealthy woman of the late Victorian took positive pride in her immobility, whether in China or in Europe or in Japan.

But think on the distance! The car is 1885! And there had been attempts and experiments with steam self propelled vehicles for almost 200 years by that point. The first automobile patent in the US is 1789! But it is not until after the first world war that woman's fashion full reflects the car, and that only finally floods outwards into the country side later. A full generation passes between the moment that the car happens, and it is finally the connecting reality. An essay on paradigms argues that until around 1930, the paradigm of the horseless carriage still dominated automobiles, and only when the concept of a car, as in railroad car, was the dominant paradigm, did the car as we know it become an indelible mark and inexorable force. So two centuries of stumbling, and it is still a generation before the innovation takes over!

These points are, of course, open to quibbles and other forces. Changes in fashion, the role of the factory, and other factors certainly had their sya, but women had been pressed into the work force for decades before the car. Women had been given, and lost, political rights for decades. Almost any other factor you can name was present, until the car was the fizz that made it pop.

What does this have to do with VR?

It's simple. Right now we wear the equivalent of corsets and bustles in our sex roles. VR may have had many waves of incarnation, but this wave is the one is going to demand that we shed those garments of another age, the garments that locked us into a hearth and home existence, bound us to normative scripts that were themselves fictions. The nuclear family isn't "traditional" it's a creation. People didn't evolve to live in suburbs. And no one can tell me that powdered orange cheese like substance surrounding hydrogenated vegetable oil is the diet we are meant to eat. The world out there isn't natural or real.

To go out into VR we need to be as free from these proton think scripts as our foremothers needed to dump the whale bone. That means seeing ourselves in the context of our digital selves, as much as talking on the telephone is normal to almost anyone born in the last century. The analog avatar has been used as an excuse for all kinds of just so stories. When in doubt, scare them with "what will happen to the children!" The threat that some particular freedom for women will be poverty for the children. It isn't freedom for women that leads to poverty for children, but instead slavery of women that does.

One simple example is the marriage that "stays together for the sake of the children."

It is one thing for a couple to hold together for a year while the last child leaves the nest. It is another for a pregnant mother to go back to an abusive man because of the economic consequences of being single. The permanent pair bond script is one that many people want and need, but it is not something that cona be enforced by a rule of fear. The old solution was the extended family. I am not advocating a return to it, but it does show that these decisions are not set in stone tablets, regardless of which mountain your prophet of choice came off of.

Once upon a time, if you think about it, people didn't live as long. Which means that divorce as we know it wasn't really as needed, because well nature had its own solution. Or if not nature than man's inhumanity to women, children and other men. Divorce is a social response to fluidity, metropolitan density, longer life spans and couch potato husbands. So is it so hard to balance the effects?

Or so hard to realize that since most people don't stay in one pair bond their whole life that the creation and dissolution of such unions is predictable, ordinary and part of our emotional experience? But without scripts to make this work,and they do exist because both ancient Rome and feudal Japan had them, people are left to improvise. Most people don't do that very well. Give me a guitar and I will show you how bad the results are. In digital reality, the permanent pair bond is rare as to be an oddity. The scripts of permanent pair bond are so broken as to lead some people in sl to pretend to die to get out of them.

Thus we are slowly creating scripts and norms that capture this fluidity. A fluidity that a world that depends more and more on VR to do its business will need.

One of the costs will be dumping proton think, and the argument that there is some particular clear relationship between the nature of our analog avatars, and the imperatives of social organization.


  1. In this month or so of my introduction to SL, I've gradually come to experience this sense that, when I look at my colleagues and the people I meet in rl, I am seeing their analog avatar. And that they are seeing, responding to and interacting with mine.

    This is shifting my relationship to my RL self.

    I chat, haltingly, about identity on SL with a few of my contacts and find "fragmentary" a good description. I have bits and pieces of a coherent understanding. Each strong SL encounter gives rise to more bits. Together, I imagine they will give rise to a multi-dimensional layer in my already formed internal landscape.

    My online names and the reasons I selected them are essential bits. My bonding with others though the ordinary things we do to help each other navigate a strange land evoke bits, as does flirting with SL romance with people I might never think of as suitable or desirable. Setting aside that I evoke a response in SL that is stronger than anything I recognize from RL.

    SL adds subtlety and complexity to my understanding of identity, reputation and trust. Both in real and second life.

  2. In a dream, I saw my reflection in a mirror. I had another face. My mother spoke to me in Spanish: "I gave you the name of a saint." I turned, but the room was empty.