Avatars: The New Normal

Beth Coleman’s expansion of the technological term “avatar,” from what many are familiar with as the virtualized representation of one’s self to a sort of medium that is neither virtual nor real, is an interesting twist in perspective.  That is, an “avatar” permits integration or overlapping of the virtual and real worlds rather than the common notion that it encourages isolation from reality.  Nor is it merely limited to virtual games or interactive worlds anymore, but is in fact prevalent in social hubs like Facebook, Twitter, or even e-mail.  Here, I can see what Coleman is trying to get at; that accounts or pages like Facebook are “avatars” in the sense that it is “you” but not completely “you.”  It supplements or accompanies your life.  It is a mesh between technology and culture that she comes to term as the “networked subject.”  Avatars allow for a new (and constantly developing) mode of communication that goes beyond mere face-to-face interaction.  These connections through the virtual world, according to Coleman, empowers the individual and leads to further discover of one’s self.  Although I find Coleman’s definition of “avatar” as appropriate given the expansion of technology and its application over the past decade, I do not know how much weight I would put on the notion that an avatar is a revolutionary way of communication.  As many individuals inside and out of class has noted, it’s hard to replace “old-fashioned” face-to-face interaction.  Technology may always offer new modes of communication and connectivity, but it simply lacks that sense of true presence.

Another topic I would like to address is the concept of human-technology co-evolution that Coleman briefly mentions.  A lot of this makes sense to me in that technology has always been a factor in the evolution of humanity, from the most primitive tools to the super-computers of today’s society.  So it is no surprise then that at the advent of virtual technology, it became integrated into the lives of people and more so with each additional generation.  The various types of interactions with virtual technology largely affect the degree to which we deem its assimilation into our daily lives as “normal”.  I mean, younger and younger generations are growing up accustomed to the world through a screen.  It makes you wonder if the current balance between the virtual and real world as represented through the avatars will eventually tip in either direction.  In other words, will our generation see the day when perhaps the virtual world dominates the majority of our real world, especially in with respect to communication and other social interactions?  Given the technological progress of just the past couple of decades, anything is possible.  That may even be the case for some right now.

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One Response to Avatars: The New Normal

  1. cstabile says:

    You seem to be agreeing with Coleman that the relationship between virtual and non-virtual isn’t one of replacement or hierarchy (e.g. only face-to-face communication is authentic), but of augmentation. Do you think that her concept of X-Reality helps us better understand the elements of co-evolution that you raise in your second paragraph? Let’s say that transformations in communication technologies have always reorganized human sensorium(s). It’s perhaps easier to see that in the past.

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