Monday, January 28, 2008

identity is one

I learned in mathematics that an identity is one. I've read of long wars between "augmentationists" and "immersionists," with some people calling themselves "experimentalists." We are, all of us, all three. There is no one in a virtual world who does anything who is not augmenting their analog avatar and player. There is no one who is not also accepting a new negotiation between desire, possibility and society. And there is no one who is not experimenting.

Much of what we are making of identity is false, a fiction. Consider how, even a generation ago, making a new identity in the analog world was easy. And before that? People often accidentally had different names. Anaïs Nin created her identity, as did many others. Robert Capa, whose missing negatives were found and are now going to be unravelled was born Endre Friedmann.

This means that creating new identities really isn't new to VR. Instead it is the always needed chance to begin again, and rewrite the book of one's past, that is finding edxpression, as it closes up elsewhere. This is the frontier, where you are who you say you are.

That's why I think that saying that all the great questions of the 21st century involve identity (hat tip to soph of course. is a bit much, or too little. In the sense that the question "who am I?" is the one that we have struggled to answer as a species, since first we started to be able to set our hands and mouths to making things that lasted beyond our analog avatar's existence. On the other hand, our analog avatars have some big problems, and VR may be the solution to some of them, but some have to do with living in the late stone age more than identity.

There is no irony in my mind that the same technology that is trying to make it so that every analog avatar has one and only one identity before the law, and I think more importantly, the credit rating agencies, is giving us a chance to escape that. The two impulses: the need to be responsible for actions, and the need to wipe clean the past, can be seen in ancient laws squiggled in pictures from a dynasty whose name is half fiction. We didn't choose many things out about our analog avatar, and by the time we know that we would have chosen differently, it is too late.

So what we are seeing here, as with transhumanity is a reality of human existence, the need to recreate ones presence to society, along lines more of choice and desire. As frontier people, we think of trust as going forward, note back. People are to be trusted if they will be here next year, not because they were here last year.

So instead of thinking of this place as being a new freedom of identity, think of it as the act of recreation, common to theatre and the arts, but also religion. Popes take new names, so do singers, actors, even painters. We all call him Monet, but that is only because his last name is now his identity to us. We all call her Madonna. But that is because she told us too. Politicians remake their identities with every passing poll.

This means that augmentationist and immersionist are not really about what they are about, but instead that there are people who want to force analog identity into virtual worlds, and people who want nothing of the analog world to come here. And then there are ripped poles of artificial division between them. In reality, we can't get rid of our analog avatars. It doesn't work out so well. In reality, our analog avatars are constructions, wearing clothes and cluttered with pictures, awards, grades. Your analog avatar's identity is as much digital and virtual as your sl avatar's identity is. Without the bank accounts, passport, credit cards, driver's license, national health card, credit rating, bank account, legal records - your analog avatar's existence is very different.

I think every American has seen It's a Wonderful Life, in it a man is unburdened of his past, but not his ... identity. It is his identity, to and of himself, that drags him back to accepting the past that so threatened to overwhelm him. It is this identity that we must protect and grow and understand, however we may need to project it into the space that other see. Our inter-subjective identity, the one shared by others, must be fluid, because others are fluid, and because it is a poor projection to begin with, and our means to alter it are yet crude and barbaric.

That identity only works when it accepts and is encompassed by an avatar, analog or otherwise, and becomes that identity. It also only works when that embrace can be broken, and hte inner self shine through. Here I am Lillie, but I must also be able to step away, and be those other selves that I am, to different people in different places.

So must you.

So must we all.

Free to be an extension of that inner self, an apotheosis of that inner self, and an experiment in what other selves it might yet become.

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