Rodvik makes The Mark; I get philosophical about virtual identity

LL CEO Rod Humble

Rod Humble once again demonstrates an adept hand and tongue when dealing with the media – this time the e-zine The Mark. It’s a fascinating piece that further demonstrates Rodvik not only grasps Second Life as a platform, he understands the importance of virtual identity. Take this extract:

The Mark: Do you think people existing in virtual worlds get closer to, or further away from, their true selves?

Rod Humble: I don’t have a clear answer on that, but I do have an opinion. There have been a series of high-profile people, from the head of Facebook to the Pope, talking about how social media should be about centering the individual – that it is all about your real life and ensuring that you don’t become a fractured person. I respectfully disagree with that.

I think that one of the healthiest things that technology can do is actually help us develop the different dimensions of ourselves that we portray in different situations. For example, the “me” at church is very different from the “me” who plays an online shooter game. The “me” talking to you now is very different from the one who will be at my parent-teacher-association meeting later tonight. We’ve always had that. I actually like the idea of enabling people to say, “In this community, I’m a completely different person, and I can hold views that aren’t going to seep into this other part of my life.” It’s a slightly heretical position, but that’s the one I take.

It may be a heretical position among his peers, but Rodvik hits the nail squarely on the head. No one in the world is ever “one” individual per se. Yes we may constantly present the same physical face to the world (although for those that wish to make use of cosmetic surgery, even that isn’t a given) – but the individual we present to different social aspects of our lives vary enormously. I am simply not the same person when among my family as I am when in the office environment of a major publishing house.

Of course, the “identity purists” will argue that this is not a matter of identity but rather of behaviour and personality; that while I may behave differently according to circumstances, my identity remains constant, as demonstrated by my having the same name on my office ID (when I have one!) as I do on my driving license. And in terms of ID cards and driving licenses they’d be right.

But they’d also be missing the point entirely. Identity is not distinct from either behaviour or personality. Rather it is intimately bound up with both, and that who were are and how we present ourselves to the world goes far beyond the a photo on a piece of paper or laminated card.

Facebook and, it now seems, Google Plus, would rather narrow the definition of identity to the two-dimensional aspects of name and photo, coupled with a verifiable address, as that better suits their marketing engines and their ability to generate revenues. I say “it seems” where Google Plus is concerned, because that situation is an unholy mess right now as regards “identity”, and it’s unclear how Google’s own tools may or may not be hooked-into Plus to reap data for their own use.

In taking this approach, the likes of Facebook are trying to enforce a form of conformity on their terms while remaining blind to the potential offered by virtual identities simply because the virtual does fit with the corporate modus operandi or world-view.

The fact is, “Inara Pey” is as much me as the person I present to business or to family and friends. In some ways she’s more “me” than the “real me” I am myself. Through her, I can integrate and publicly express facets of my personality that “real world” society would still deeply frown upon. I can, for example, mix my interests with fetish, D/s, etc., with my interests in business, psychology, politics, history, sport, etc., without (for the most part) being judged solely on the one aspect (fetish / D/s) some have determined to be “objectionable”.

She’s also a part of my psyche in other ways: she is an outlet for my writing on a variety of subjects; she represents me through Twitter and the like. In fact, I find it impossible – even discomfiting – to enter other virtual worlds without her, and so she existed in Blue Mars (as was) and exists in InWorldz, OSGrid, New World Grid, and Avination.

She only really differs in looks (although I’ve tried to mod her shape to be reasonably reflective of the “meat me”): I’m Caucasian in real life, whereas she is dark-skinnned. But even this is perhaps a subconscious reflection of elements of my “real” personality.

I say this because one side of my family’s history goes back to New Zealand, which has generated a deep interest in all things Maori in my in adult life. At the same time, I’ve been fortunate to spend a fair amount of time as an adult in Sri Lanka, and have developed a deep love for that country and its people. The fascination with both New Zealand’s Maori and the Sri Lanka people (Sinhalese and Tamil) seems to have influenced how Inara herself looks.

This genuinely wasn’t a conscious act on my part when I decided to give her a virtual make-over last year. However, the look evolved somewhat subconsciously over a period of several months, and has left me feeling that her appearance is a result of these various inner voices and aspects of who I am coming together to give her form. so to me, physical and virtual self, are deeply intertwined emotionally and psychologically; and I doubt I’m alone in feeling this.

And while she may not have a credit card or a driver’s license or a passport, it’s about time that big business caught on to the fact that she can still be a consumer (and again, that’s really what a lot of the kerfuffle about “real identities” is about: the ability to connect producer with consumer). This is because advertising, promotions, and the like that are directed at her still reach me. Certainly, they do screw with FB’s (and the likes) abilities to carry out wider data-gathering and limit their ability to gain “real” influence (in their eyes) over people – but the fact is, *if* I end up purchasing something, getting involved in something (either directly, or through my digital persona, and accept the receipt of on-going communications, etc., from a service, company or group – does it really matter if it came about through contact with my digital self rather than the “real” (in their eyes) me?

Blimey, and I haven’t even started on privacy concerns and handing over my “real” identity over to the suits and shirts of FB et al is akin to handing them power over me…

But to return to the interview with Rodvik: as well as identity, he dives into the many creative facets of Second Life and the myriad ways in which it brings people together and how they interact once brought together. As such, it not only shows (again) that he gets the value of Second Life on just about all levels, it provides interesting thought for consideration, both by those of us involved in this frontier – and, dare I say, by those who would seek to limit our ability to explore it by forcing us to restrict ourselves to their interpretation of what can be classified as a “real identity”. Not that I can see it causing them to re-think their position, sadly.

If I were to take issue with Rodvik, it would in his answer to a question concerning the future of virtual worlds and how people come together, when he replies:

“Good question. I think that something big is going to happen when it comes to online associations, which are going to run headlong into conflict – probably with some totalitarian country somewhere. It’s a broader thing than just Second Life.”

My take on this – while it is slightly out-of-context to the question asked, which set commercial aspects of virtual interaction to one side – is on the one hand he is more than likely right right in his assessment vis “totalitarian countries”. However, on the other, for those of us already living on the edge of the “new digital divide”, the conflict is clearly already here, with the totalitarian drive is coming out of “big business”. How that is resolved may actually render anything else moot for us.

I would, however, end this piece on a lighter note, and wag a teasing finger. My 40th birthday is rushing towards me fast enough as it is, Rodvik, so did you really have to go and push me into my “mid-40s” in the interview?! That’s two dances you owe me! ;-)

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2 thoughts on “Rodvik makes The Mark; I get philosophical about virtual identity

  1. Miso Susanowa

    Oh I am so glad I wrote my own post on this before I read yours! *laughing* We reach the same conclusion: if all they want is to reach me and influence my purchasing, they are reaching the same eyeballs as my typist. Their stated goal is achieved; market penetration. This really seems to conflict with their position regarding “pseudoanonimity” so I must ask why this is so.

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    1. Inara Pey Post author

      Absolutely.

      It really comes down to information being the new currency of power. Whoever controls the flow of information, holds the power; That’s really what Google and FB and others are about – gathering the information, controlling its flow through the gateways of *their* choosing.

      “Pseudoanonimity” simply doesn’t fit with this, as it opens the door to greater and greater complications – for those that would have it otherwise.

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