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Class 6: My Avatar and Me – Virtual Identities

March 18, 2021

Due to the re-scheduling of last week’s class we met for class six this week. John began this discussion by asking if everyone had viewed the TED presentation by David Chalmers and the interview with Daniel Dennett. The topics were complex and required several viewings for some of you. It was agreed that consciousness is not easy to define. In fact, it was not so much defined in the material as spoken about. The manifestations of consciousness were considered in different contexts. Everyone recognised Chalmers’ description of a movie playing inside our heads: the narrator in our lives. You also suggested that the use of multiple personas is common. We behave according to the company we are in; family, friends, strangers and so on, but it is not clear whether this means we have one personality with different sides and layers to it or multiple personalities.

This led to us considering the nature of our avatars here in SL. Do we present ourselves in virtual worlds as we are in RL? For instance, last week many of the residents of VAI referred to the refreshing nature of SL where they are not subject to being identified with their disability. You may be confined to a wheelchair in RL but your avatar can walk, run and dance in SL. Is identifying with our avatar in SL very different from identifying with our physical body in RL?

John told the story of the the blog A Gay Girl in Damascus about a lesbian living in Syria during the 2011 uprising that arose from the Arab Spring. The blogger, Amina Arraf, came to worldwide attention after apparently being abducted by authorities. She wrote about the dangers of being gay in the Middle East and developed a large following ranging from those interested in her demand for sexual freedom to the supporters of the political cause espoused by the Muslim Brotherhood. The demands for her release eventually led to the revelation that Amina was actually Tom MacMaster, a US postgraduate student in Edinburgh. For the purposes of our discussion the interesting thing is that Amina formed several close relationships while presenting as a gay girl. She was utterly convincing for over a year.

Free Amina Arraf.
When Amina Arraf was supposedly abducted there was an international effort to secure her release before it emerged that the blogger was in fact Tom MacMaster and the photo of Amina was really a Croatian woman.

This raises the notion of ‘truth’, or at the very least, our expectation that others do not attempt to deceive us. But what happens if one of our individual personas does not match the expectation of somebody else? At what point might we be considered to have moved from a genuine attempt to present ourselves honestly as possible to becoming deceivers and liars?

Your generation has grown up with social media and you are familiar with how we present ourselves in that virtual space. You have become adept at deciphering profiles and cautious about revealing too much. It is unlikely that Amina’s blog would convince people today… or is it?

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