Virtual Identity

Dale and DaleSo there’s been this discussion going around about the social construction of virtual identity, and I’ve commented in both of those places at some length, and I thought to myself “hey here’s a deep an’ substantive topic that I can comment on instead of just posting pictures of WoW mounts and flaming desks and stuff”, and I started to write a weblog entry in my head, but when I got down to it everything that I had to say seemed so obvious that I stopped again.

But then I remembered how easy it is to post a weblog entry, so I started again. :)

To my thinking there are two interesting questions in this discussion:

First, to what extent is identity socially constructed? It’s pretty noncontroversial that essentially all normal healthy ordinary happy identities are formed to a significant extent through social interactions, that alot of how we think about ourselves has to do with how we think other people think of us, and so on. Whether social interaction is necessary for identity formation is a more open question. Some people have said in various places that identity (or consciousness, or some other word in basically the same drawer) is impossible without interaction. I tend to think that this is too strong, and that someone who managed to be born and survive without any interaction would still have some sort of identity, but we don’t really have much evidence one way or the other on that, and I’m not entirely wedded to the notion.

The second interesting question is whether RL and SL (atomic and virtual) identities are different with respect to that first question. Gwyneth’s original posting, linked to above, made the case that while atomic identities are influenced by social interaction, virtual identities depend entirely upon such interaction (“the digital self is only defined by the amount of interactions it has with other digital selves”; italics in the original). I disagreed with that at some length in the comments (basically just because I see no reason to think it’s true, and Gwyneth didn’t really present any), and disagreed with dandellion Kimban’s posting (also linked above) that said that the virtual self is different because there’s always the real self there looking at it. (My rather abstract but I think correct counter was that even in the case of my atomic self, there’s always the inner mental self looking at it, and that’s the same self that’s there looking at the virtual self.)

So basically my claim is that, however much socially-constructed we decide to say that identity is, I don’t see any convincing reason to think that the answer is any different for virtual selves than it is for atomic selves. This fits in with my cognitive drift in general, of course; when people point out something or other about how people are in SL, I’m forever chiming in to say “just like in RL!” (except for, you know, things like being able to fly and create zeppelins with our minds and stuff). But I think it’s also true!

So that’s me weighing in on an Important Issue of the Day for a change. I might at some point weigh in on this “augmentation vs immersion is really a false dichotomy” thing sometime, too (I don’t think it’s a false dichotomy at all), but not tonight. The most you’ll get tonight beyond this is some of the recently-uploaded Spennix pictures, and probably not even that. :)

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4 Responses

  1. I really enjoy your post. It’s a heavy-weighty topic to be sure, and I’m with you…I’m not at all sure there needs to be such an either-or approach to the question, but to each their own. It’s all perspective, some might say, and there’s alot of truth to that. As we’ve talked about many times, we bring ourselves to all worlds. Precisely because of perception…it’s through my mind and thought processes and emotions that I interact in SL. It’s from within me that I, as an avatar, make choices and perceive. Even if I’m trying on a faery form…I’m behaving how *I* think a faery might behave. The faery isn’t telling me how to think like one. It doesn’t bring life to me. I bring life to it. (It’s that saying…”No matter where you go, there you are.” We bring ourselves to everything we do…I struggle to see how it can be otherwise, but I’m always open to trying to understand the position of those who feel differently on this.) As for the *requirement* of social interaction as a means to possess identity, again, I agree with you…I don’t believe there is a either-or requirement of this nature. Speaking of nature, perhaps the requirement is more of an environmental interaction…with all of the world and all that that means. Basically, experiences. Those could be a mix of things, with others, in solitude, in the elements of creativity and life. I always wonder if we’re blank slates without a mind of our own if the only way to have an identity is based on what others say about us. That doesn’t seem quite true (sounds extremely limiting with ramifications for one’s self esteem), or maybe I’m misunderstanding the point. I tend to think identity is so highly complex that its formation and possibly continual refinement/evolution comes from a wider range of things, through more dimensions than solely one. That said, ’tis true…no person is an island. Even if we can still know who we are as an entity…it’s just not as fulfilling. We are social creatures. Thank you for such a wonderful, thought-provoking post. And Spennix rawks. (So does the bot episode…still makes me giggle.)

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