Sunday, 16 December 2012

Botgirl's Ritual of Retreat

On RetreatThe ever creative Botgirl has posted the following:

I'm taking a monthlong retreat from social networks, blogging and other public online communication. There are three main questions I'll be contemplating:
  • How have I been affected by pervasive connection to the social network?
  •  I took a week off a couple of years ago and figured out a few things, but I've lost perspective again. I'm taking a full month this time to examine my motivations, evaluate the benefits and costs, and finally reengage with a more intentional strategy for participation.
  • How will my creative expression change when I stop publishing multiple times each week?
  • My intention to explore longer-term and more substantive projects has been sabotaged by an addictive pull to continuously post new work.  I haven't been able to discipline myself to cut down, so I'm going cold turkey.
  • Is it time to retire the Botgirl Questi persona? 
  • Five years ago, a fictional being emerged from my subconscious and became the central focus of my online life and creative expression. Over the last couple of years, the line between author and character has blurred to the point that neither is well served. A change is long overdue.
I wish everyone a great holiday season. I'll be back in January.
Botgirl's Identity Circus: Goodbye Until 2013

Over the past 7 years I have noticed this pattern that is pretty unique to Second Life.  People time and time again feel the need to take extended leaves from in world, or to retire identities they create in world all together.  Also when doing this they feel the need to make an account to the community of why they are doing this.

I have literally seen this happen dozens of times, with people telling me they are going to leave for this reason or that reason.

Now what makes this interesting is that I have never seen it happen in say Twitter or Facebook.  If people delete a Twitter account they just delete it, they don't need to explain to a greater community before hand how they feel impelled to do so because of some philosophical crisis.

This need that so many people feel to present an account of leaving upon exiting Second Life testifies to the power of these identifications.  A Second Life avatar simply does not work the same way a Twitter Avatar works.  A Twitter or Facebook account is kind of like a phone number or address, while a Second Life Avatar is an identity we suture on to.  We feel it becomes a part of us and we feel morally duty bound to make accounts of its behaviour. Imagine if we felt the same way about Call of Duty or the Sims?

This massive power that Second Life imaginary reality has it precisely what prevents it from taking off: the dream like fantasy world of Second Life is simply too powerful.  We begin to feel that it is all 'real', that the avatar we are playing with is not an interface but a self.  This hard suture draws us in to a world where our most radical and compulsive fantasy life can get played out.  Unlike TV or movies we can not keep a safe distance from our fantasy life and many people find this stressful and deeply upsetting.

What I find very interesting is Botgirl's claim to have failed to discipline herself, which reminds me so Foucault's theory of identity, where identity is a discipline that gives us a kind of power.  I also think people don't feel this kind of remorse for not discipling a Facebook account or Twitter identity, even when the consequences of inappropriate Facebook or Twitter conduct is so much more significant than playing an imaginary character under an assumed name.

Again this testifies to the power of identity implicit in Virtual Reality, a power that Linden Labs was able to unleash but has never been able to figure out how to manage.  Wizards of Warcraft provides very cliche staged roles and identities with game like structure to come between players and their tendency to suture on to identities.
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