Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Avatars: the Perils of Disconnection and Anonymity

I love Provo.When people complain about it, I am usually one of first to jump to its defense. However, there is one area where I have to admit that Provo fails miserably and that is in its drivers. Now it may be the case that Provo drivers are no worse than anywhere else in the nation, but it just seems to me that for a city full of awesome, kind, and religious university students, I should be able to expect a little better. I find it strange when I get cut off (insert any rude driving act here) by someone who appears to be a perfectly nice-looking person. Being the recipient of my fair share rude driving, I developed the hypothesis that people act differently while driving. To illustrate, how many times have you been cut off in a rude manner while walking around campus? As far as I can remember, it has never happened.

When Professor Burton suggested that machines are avatars, it fit perfectly with my hypothesis. Essentially, avatars fundamentally change the way we, as humans, behave. There appears to be a disconnect between the way one behaves when acting behind the facade of an Avatar and how he/she would normally. I am not exactly certain what the cause of this disconnect is but I would like to suggest three possibilities. In suggesting these possibilities, I am going to borrow from some of the ideas of  Freud and Jong and if I had the time (and perhaps if I was a psychologist) I might take the time to explore these suggestions further and justify them beyond qualitative reasoning and intuition.

1) Anonymity- when using an Avatar, there is a level of anonymity that leads one to not feel the normal action/consequence relationship.
2) Loss of fidelity- When using an avatar there is a loss of fidelity between the avatar-world and reality. This, along with the first point, fosters an environment where one's Id can become unrestrained from the Ego and dominate the decision making process.     
3) Avatars create a physical outlet to actualize our "shadow-selves" i.e. they allow our psychosis to become personified (borrowed this idea from Gideon Burton).

Let me know your thoughts on this, it is fascinating.