Reasons why Dusan Writer occasionally rocks and rocks hard, #39: sarcastic excellence.
On identity directly:
So – first, this idea of linking to identity is to facilitate tapping into the viral power of social networks, and it's meant to make people feel somehow 'better' about coming into SL. As if somehow people just WON'T come in if they can’t use their real names. As if in a world of Twitter handles, anonymous blog posts and fake mySpace pages we're suddenly all terrified of digital spaces where we have to put our real life names in our profiles rather than in a corporate database somewhere.
This may be something slightly stunning to people who didn't grow up as the web evolved, but believe, once upon a time, in the world then: handles were our only online identity, some creative, some thuggish, some plebian, some archaic; and we played by the simple words, names, places and ideas we pretended to be.
Emilly, for instance, goes back farther than SL; and there are other names before her that would pop up in searches from five years ago, eight, ten, fifteen.
I won't dissemble and tell you people didn't choose unwisely; and really, if the choice is between Steve Sumner, for instance, and Ychebotarev ProductEngine (look him up, he's out there), I think Steve would reconsider the mouth-filling nominatives in favor of the simplicity of meatspace. After all, even God has a real name (though I'm amused that the name of God's typist? Is Peter) on Twitter.
But put that aside (who hasn't seen the endless parade of Sexxygirls and FoxxyLadys on SL? And I dare you, I double-dare you, to count how many avatars are named some variation of "Vagina") because stupidity is everywhere; I want to talk about why it's deemed so important, in these days of instant communication, to go by the real names our real faces wear.
Think about that. I link up my RL name to my SL avatar. Now I'm one step closer to anyone who has that name to go in and find my RL address. My RL phone number. My medical records. My bank accounts. An overhead shot of my house. I don't want this. No one who's sane wants this.
This rush to link avatars to "identity" funnels us into a way of thinking about avatars that saps them of their potential magic.
This magic also works on the level of heuristics. My avatar, to me, is a representation of a particular mental modelling of the world, a way of interacting with information, and a mind-set through which I view creative work and value generation. Avatars increasingly become representational not of the "person" but rather of a particular data-rich persona which signals to communities the cultural and values-driven perspectives which we enact.
Again, the rush to link avatars to "identity" saps them of their power to signal the creative domains from which we tackle problems as other users bypass this signalling capacity in order to find the short cut to "real life name" with all the promise it seems to hold of "oh, ok, now I know you".
This is a longer passage, but I wanted everyone to understand what I meant. What Dusan's talking about here has nothing to do with who the avatar, per se is, and everything to do with what the avatar represents, to us, to those viewing us.
If that still didn't make it clear, let me offer two examples.
Mr. Drinkwater remains one of the best examples for this concept. It's a national Caledonian secret-that-is-not, the identity of Mr. Drinkwater's typist, his "Boswell", as he says. He is polite and affable and cheerful and feels no compulsion to hide this fact; it's come out, and there it is, and life goes on, and it wasn't really that hidden in the long run.
All right as far as it goes; if you put up a picture of Mr. Drinkwater next to a picture of Boswell, you would understand these are two radically different people. And yet, the same sense of humor underlies them both. That same fierce hunger for knowledge and experience, page by page or in living breathing color; that same curiosity about people, from the taste of skin to the appropriate symbols to paint on the sole of the foot: these are earmarks of the avatar that are recognizable, solid, unwavering. And these things shine through if the avatar in question is tall, lithe, and erudite, or short, frenetic and furred.
And I should add, the best second example I have is me: my profile, a long while back, used to contain the phrase If you don't recognize the face under the nametag, it's me. That still holds true a great amount of the time; but most of the time, my identifying markers are that I'm short, I'm oddly colored (be that color skin, outfit or fur), and my movements, sad as I am to say it, are tilted either towards the twee or the confrontative. (Right now my AO contains both.)
And I have a language of symbols that goes beyond that, that also is reflected in the images I take in world. Stitches; seams; patchwork; pale skin or hair; vibrant, occasionally unsettling eyes; a wide-ranging love for the anthropological and costume design both. I rarely consider it getting dressed anymore; I consider it closer to painting a canvas, and I have a wide-ranging palette from which to draw.
Anyone who knows what I look like RL would again, note the wide disparity between me in RL, and my avatar on the grid. And yet, I spent so long using the same AO during my first two years I still fall into two poses off the grid. My mouth frequently looks amused, yet paradoxically rarely smiles fully (though these days that is changing). And my avatar falls into building the way I fall into research--pursuing it for hours at a time, barely speaking, entranced by the potential gain--with new build techniques, or new information both.
And both my avatar and I communicate best through inference and allusion, over actual conversation.
All of that? Is not tied into my name. All of that would be discarded by the wayside if I was forced into the shell of mundane reality on SL. All of that is what makes me living, vibrant, and real in my own way on SL.
I loathe Facebook. I use MySpace for the music links only. I use Twitter, but though I do follow people, and I have made friends there, it comes and goes in stages--two, three days with no word, then one day of every-two-minute sends. It depends entirely on how much I want to communicate, on any given day.
Or perhaps, bundle all of that up, and see it in this light: my RL name? Is protected only to the extent that it's my legal identifier. Beyond that, I don't consider it that often.
But Emilly? Hit Google, Emilly shows up--and so do some of my other chosen nommmes d'net. I am invested in what Emilly does, says, thinks, writes. My words come up, good or bad, when my SL name is employed.
And yes, there are still more people who call me "Em"--or by other handles--in RL than by my real name. Why would I ever want to lose that cachet (whether it brings to mind a sneering malice or the infamous past) to move it to my real name--a set of words with no set value (save what other people put on it), that I did not choose?
I chose Em. I chose that identity. And just as with family members we choose, over those we're simply born with, it does make a difference.
And I agree with Dusan--it would be the beginning of the final death knell for Second Life, were it to demand compliance to real-world ideals. Because "your world, your imagination" still means something to some of us. And it should mean something to the Labs.
(Also: thank you, Dusan. Thank you for changing the word in your paraphrased statement to "character". I will be a character, I will be a ragdoll, I will be an avatar--BUT I AM NOT A GODDAMNED TOON. For the love of all gods, I loathe that word with a fiery vengeance.)