By all appearances

Botgirl’s recent post about Gracie Kendall’s 1000 avatar project presents Gracie’s pictorial documentary in an interesting way:  as a complete counterpoint to virtual identity narcissism.  By “virtual identity narcissism,” Botgirl offers the example of photostreams of individuals whose visual conversation consists primarily of hundreds of self images.  (That was alot of “of” in that sentence, whew!)  I find Botgirl’s point interesting and compelling.  I admit to being one of those who runs a visual monologue, if you will, with images in my flickr account almost entirely of myself.  I share my primary reasons for this in a comment to Botgirl’s post, and her reply to my comment continued the conversation in a great way but in a way that also served as a challenge (whether or not Botgirl intended to offer a challenge). 

I love to explore different skins primarily because I sketch faces in RL.  I’m very curious about the effect created by different skins.  I do also change my shape to fit the skins, because frankly, my features aren’t such that I can switch into different skins and make no modifications whatsoever.  (If I don’t make those modifications, the effect is often freakish.)  I’m astounded by claims of being able to do this with a sea of inworld skin lines.  Yet through conversation with my v v wonderful friend when we happened to talk about this topic in particular, I came to realize that even when I change my shape, I don’t really change my features too drastically.  I often move the sliders drastically, yes, but that’s to get the skin to fit my features… features that I clearly identify with in a deeply fundamental, intrinsic way.  When I realized this, I also realized a challenge had presented itself.  So what I’ve been exploring a bit is to try to truly alter my features, again without going into the land of the absurd although that could be an interesting exercise as well.  Anyway, here’s my first attempt (which took a long time believe it or not).  In my flickr stream, I call this photo “Felicia the Bull” because the horns with flowers reminds me of The Story of Ferdinand:

Dale asked me what I’m learning so far from trying what we had talked about together.  As I shared with Dale, what I’m learning from this first attempt is that I do see a difference in the features, yes, and at the same time, I do still see myself in spirit and in features.  I’m also learning that my beliefs, the very nature of my identity as expressed through my features pulls at me incredibly strongly.  And I’m also learning that it’s really very difficult to create a plain face (which was what I had intended to do with this first attempt).  It’s really truly quite difficult (again without going into the land of the absurd to do it).  I’m not sure if that’s because of how powerfully identity calls, or the gorgeous skins that are all so perfectly made up, or the system tendencies or all of those combinations.   That said, I plan to keep going with this experiment because now I’m very curious to see if I can create vastly different features.  (Even my RL sketches tend to favor very attractive faces, interesting enough.) 

As I think again about Botgirl’s original question and go beyond the comments already made, some of the reasons for countless self images with no real discernable difference in features could also include a very real sense of self-knowing, of recognizing identity, of self-awareness as communicated by the features.  It could also be a subconscious proclamation of existence, a way to create and ensure that a mark is left on the world:  I am here.   I was here.  I will forever be here. 

Or as Neil Diamond sang:  “I am I said.”

* I really like this Ralph Waldo Emerson quote Gracie uses at the header of her Avatar Project weblog:   “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson.   Reminds me of a specific lyric I love and use from John Hiatt’s song “Child of the Wild Blue Yonder:” a full blooded woman dreaming, with the power just to be. 

** As an aside, I view Gracie’s 1000 Avatar Project as a great visual representation of the richness of the SL community.  This project has to be a PR dream for the Lab.  Surely, the Lab has heard of a similar celebration and promotion of community that Mashable embarked upon with a photo wall project where they took the photos of their Facebook fanbase and created an entire wall of these images in their headquarter offices.  Not only great PR, but talk about a way of keeping your customers front and center in your mind.  Not a bad idea at all.

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10 thoughts on “By all appearances

  1. I guess I was challenging us all to look more deeply into the avatar self-portrait phenomenon. Thanks for sharing your process of experimenting with feature adjustment in the exploration of identity. What a fascinating experiment . . . at what point does the manipulation of specific physical features of my avatar make it feel like “not me”?

  2. Botgirl, you share a very interesting, important and compelling challenge…particularly in the age of Live Journaling. The self-portrait phenomenon probably does also include a level of infatuation with the ideal aspects of the self (so goes the age of Live Journaling, yes?) and probably also includes a level of infatuation with the very act of creation. As to where the threshold is where I no longer recognize myself because of manipulating the sliders, that will be interesting and exactly what I’m trying to discover. I often think features can be taken as literal interpretations and/or they also carry meaning. Where the fork in the road is for the literal and the attached meaning, I’m not sure. Will be interesting to see if/when I arrive at it!

  3. I agree that Live Journaling (twitter/foursquare/facebook/blogs/etc.) has a lot of identity projection in it. It’s funny. When I first started messing around with social networking, I’d scan through my RSS reader to find interesting articles for my own edification or entertainment and then share links from time to time that I thought would be interesting to others. At this point, I often scan articles more for the purpose of finding something to share than for my own personal interests. Although there’s a certain amount of altruism to it, I have to admit that there’s a strong emotional drive to keep myself alive in the minds of my extended social networking circle. Virtual neurosis?

    I’ve been thinking about your prior comments on our infatuation with creativity and have also been starting to question the value of creativity for its own sake, as well as the psychological drives behind it. I’ll hopefully create something about it to share soon! 😉

    1. I think that’s a part of it too…wanting to be present and accounted for in the “conversation,” however conversation is defined. A handful of weblogs — like yours, Dale’s — generate great conversation from a wonderfully diverse community of readers. I don’t read all of the SL or virtual world-related weblogs, but I have a feeling not too many weblogs consistently generate either compelling or fun (or both) conversations with comments from a wide variety of persons. Conversation for someone like you then truly is an exchange of thoughts and a building of ideas between a wide range of people. In my case, conversation often comes across as a monologue as I’m still exploring the world in the form of art that I have a sense of (sketching, writing, learning photography) and/or sharing/celebrating the talents of other people. But in both cases (all cases really), I think the desire to be present and accounted for, to be part of the very fiber is there, constant, and real…as it is in all worlds, really, I think, don’t you? Your upcoming post on creativity sounds fascinating. For me, national novel writing month really is all about exploring the creative process…it’s such a mysterious thing really. I’m looking forward to reading and pondering on your post!

    1. I agree, Ava. 🙂 I too think the process of knowing thy self is an ongoing journey in all worlds. We’re all truly complex spirits aren’t we?

  4. WOW what a fascinating post Michele, and really great follow up responses. Ava, I definitely agree, that is why my other project “My Life as an Avatar” was just that, a conversation with myself (my avatar). I absolutely use Gracie as a way to find myself. She helps me every day. Especially liking myself more. Talk about narcissism…LOL

  5. Thanks, Gracie! I agree…the conversation in the comments has been really great, rich, and very very enjoyable! Thank you all! :))

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