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Have seen a couple of things recently which make me wish I’d had time to write up more things on avatar identity ( see also the post Blurred Lives) while I was working, perhaps based on the things I talked about in this: more…

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I’ve been intrigued for a little while now about identity online. For a couple of different reasons, not necessarily for open discussion, but prompted by things perhaps other than missing Mark Childs’ deadline for proposals on avatar identity or reading/writing social media guidelines. Yesterday I took my alt shopping, seems she’s been left a bit shabby while I’ve spent more time on the Teeslife workers, and I wanted to get back to being her, incase I feel I want to log in more as her than as me in the coming months. This may be a little foiled by the fact that I’ve grown increasingly fond of my main avatar recently, and I’d be even less keen to give her up than ever. I suppose I should use my alt to be me, or to work, and me to work or be me more, but I don’t really want an artificial distinction like that and also it would be tricky with object ownership. There are in fact things around Teeslife – though I kind of set out not to – which she made, but on the whole I’ve kept her fairly out of the way of the people I come across through work. I’ve always seen her as a slightly separate twin of my main alt, and I’ve got a couple of pictures of them hanging out together that is really cute.

Anyway yesterday we went shopping, was a bit gutted that some of my fave shops had disappeared, even though I wasn’t really setting out to replicate my wardrobe. I have to say, as we looked for good looking well fitting jeans I felt a greater empathy than usual – she began to feel more like me then. I’ve been taking photos of avatars at events recently, partly in remembramce of Robbie Dingo’s ‘Mask’, which I’m going to put together somewhere (I didn’t ask them, nor note their names, so slightly worried people will recognise themselves!) and it always fascinates me that you can recognise avatars at events from a distance as there’s usually some aspect of them that makes it them. With an alt, the whole point, kind of, is that they’re not the same (or maybe it is, depending on why they’re alts!) or that people can be people that they’re not.

Which is really the underpinning of this reflection I’ve been on. When I first got the necklace that I usually wear, it was no trans, but at some point it turned up also in a goody bag which was a trans version. Having bought a jumper which needed a necklace to work (heh, there’s hope for me yet, I might turn into a Sheila-type accessoire-ess…) I remembered I had a trans copy, so I handed one over. And the minute she put it on, I suddenly sensed she was me in a way that I never have before. It was really interesting – quite instant. And also suddenly I felt that although she doesn’t look like me, people might recognise her as me if I loitered about the places I usually do with the people I usually do. Should a necklace make a difference?!

I often worry Angela by logging in with one of the uni accounts (well I’m hardly really likely to try out the iPad app with my main av, am I?) but I think she pretty quickly recognises I’m me. Most people who know me online but who actually know me for real would (I think, though they are free to disagree – I’d be fascinated to know differently) say that if you know me, then the me that you meet online is recognisably me. I’m a rotten liar and have no real pretension to be anyone I’m not, so I think I’m comforted friends have told me this is the case. It rather depends on how well you know me, and some years ago we had a long discussion on my blog about the different layers that getting to know me required. And what came out of it was that different people may well have felt differently about the me that they knew, depending on where they knew me from or for how long they’d known me. (This is partly questions I wanted to deal with in the presentation I gave at Cranmer last term, which I chose to take down for comments that were made on it)

This extant dichotomy among those who know me for real makes me begin to worry about those who don’t know me, who only really know me from what they have met online, or who bring the mental concept of who I am from who they think they have got to know online to any face to face meeting, and whether I live up to that, they are disappointed in the real me, or whether the blurring of the two allows for a richer relationship to develop. One of my points in last term’s presentation is that we have many layers, many faces, even without meaning to dissemble, and that it was perhaps possible that an online ‘persona’ (mask) may indeed be a more ‘real’ presentation of the ‘real’ person than a shy/disabled/etc real person.

In some ways, although this fascinates me deeply (see – I knew I should have got something to Mark!), it has taken on a fresh perspective recently. Well, two. Firstly, even without the guidelines on use of social media that came from Westcott – be careful what you put of yourself online, prospective employers and even potentially parishioners may look you up – I’ve had conversations over the last couple of years about identity as I move into my new role, and some of the how to be a vicar but also how not to be/when not to be/with whom not to be the vicar (also partly prompted by the good blog Vicar’s Wife as well as the most excellent Rev) is making me wonder how my identity will be affected as I pick up public ministry and how that will merge or create new layers; how much I will be able to be me, how much I shall be specifically not able to be me, and how me will change anyway.

Secondly, because I’ve got a little concerned recently about who people who only really know me online think I am/what they think they know, and how I can’t – and/or probably wouldn’t want to be that image – it’s an image, it’s not really me (my avatar’s only an image too, but she’s possibly more me than a composite picture of my online lives – or is she? or is she a product of the one, the other, or the both? is she the composite? am I a composite? Is this where I started?!),  I’ve also become more aware of and sensitive to what I believe others to be if I have spent little or no time with them in person. This doesn’t make me particularly more reticent (and I’ve never been one to think stalking facebook to know ‘everything’ about someone makes me their close friend), but it has made me wonder about expectations. Am not entirely sure what exactly about expectations yet. That I don’t want people to have unattainable ones of me, in any life and that I don’t want to assume things from the kaleidoscope of their lives which I see online. I am still entirely sure that an online relationship helps to broaden and deepen an existing relationship, maintain it (though not solely), but I am feeling a little spooked about the person you might think I am when I’m not. And what, if anything, I can do about that in your head. Or that I need to do. If anything.

Just remember which one of me I am ;-)

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