Saturday, September 14, 2013

Avatars and Anonymity: Who are We?

In my digital culture class, we talked a few days ago about the idea of online avatars, and that got me thinking about my personal online presence--who I am, where I've been, and how I seek to portray myself. As you may know, avatars (not to be confused with an excellent series on Nickelodeon that enjoyed the premier of its second season this last Friday) are basically personae that we use to represent ourselves on the internet: usernames, profile pictures, blog layouts, "likes" and +1's--they all reflect who we are, or at least whom we wish to be seen as.

When I was sixteen or so, I got my start into the digital world through a web community based around a popular computer game called Warcraft III. This handsome fellow on the right was me from 2006-2009 (I bet you didn't know I was a night elf, right?) Now, you can hold your laughs and everything, because honestly, this community was one of the best things that happened to me in high school, it being the primary motivator for my creative and academic pursuits at the time. It was on this web community that I developed my first real interest in 2D and 3D art; here I made my first forays into programming, learning a C++ derivative and creating my own game and a number of AI engines; here I discussed philosophy, religion, politics, and ethics in ways that I had never done with anyone except for my best friend, Jordan. It truly was a haven for me, a place where I could escape to interact in meaningful ways with creators and thinkers from around the globe. And really, those people were some pretty close friends. I remember getting back from my mission and feeling a little bit like Marius form Les Mis when I went back to check on old friends--realizing that these people with whom I had once been so close had dissolved into the ether of the Internet.

In recent years, I've sought to be very open with my identity on the internet, but I still wonder every day whether that's really right for me. When I'm me, I sometimes feel restrained in what I can write (or about whom), because most of the important lessons (good and bad) that I pick up along the way are from those people who are closest to me.

I guess what I'm saying is I sometimes feel like I can't really get to the real me through my real self.

I don't know what that has to say about modern society--I have my thoughts, but I won't dare to tackle them in this context. For now, though, I'm okay with good, old-fashioned me. If I really have anything worth saying, I might as well be brave enough to say it without a mask. I think in some ways, though, that in coming to understand the masks we wear--both consciously and unconsciously--we'll  better understand that enigma that is the mind and the ways that the Digital Age is changing the ways we think and act.