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They can be as simple as the pictures representing us in Microsoft Messenger, or sophisticated as a character where almost every feature is freely modifiable.

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You can have many. Actually, once you start using the Internet, it is almost impossible to live without one. From instant messaging services to on-line forums, the picture representing you as you would like to appear to the outside world. An expression of your identity, a state of your mind, an add-on to the picture of your second identity.

This segregation is rather harmless in the case of completely anonymous identities, because their authors cannot be made responsible for whatever they do. Thus, very high personality involvement is achieved in Multi User Domains or massive Multi-User Games, where I have to assume a virtual personal identity which may evolve as a result of my longer-term participation: e. Under offline conditions, such highly involving personality commitments would be hard to tolerate because they would tie me down into tightly structured roles. In online settings, however, they are less molesting because they can be freely constructed, modified and discontinued anytime according to my own preferences.

However, severe problems can emerge when they are tied deterministically to a precise person in the RealWorld: e. In such cases, sophisticated technical safeguards have to be taken to guarantee that no false identity claims are occurring. In the case of Second Life, such risks of "identity theft" emerge particularly when users are allowed to give avatars their own full name. In such cases, they would be made legally accountable for immoral or delinquent behaviour executed in their own name: even if they have no knowledge about such "Doppelgangers".

More than other interactive online settings, Metaverses like Second Life may induce a rather deep dissociation between the invisible acting "I" in the background and the visible performing "me" on the screen.

Women and Second Life: Essays on Virtual Identity, Work and Play |

In SL, this is happening particularly in the case when I chose the default "observer" mode where I can see my own avatar acting. This implies that I take a decentered, objectivized stance toward my avatar: not unlike the observing position I take to all others. By observing myself, I can take a self-reflective, critical attitude toward my nonverbal performances and their effects on others.

In RL, this decentered attitude is more restricted to verbal utterances because I can hear them in a similar way I see others talking , while the visible cues I emit are usually hidden from me: especially my facial expressions which I could only observe by looking into a mirror. In SL, the capacities for self-observation are extended to the visible sphere, so that all the emitted cues are subject to self-perception, self-evaluation and self-control. Another implication of the observer mode is that I'm able to see my environment from almost the same perspective as all the others, especially when I observe my own avatar from a larger distance.

It may be hypothesized that such convergences may foster social integration.

For instance, the feeling to belong to the same group may be catalyzed by seeing this group clearly from proper distance as an aggregation of avatars and by seeing oneself as just a group member like all the others. Given the full freedom to choose and shape one's own avatar, SL offers excellent conditions to experiment with alternative personal identities. However, there is evidence that in most cases, such experimentations take place only in at the beginning, while in the longer run, users find it too cumbersome or uninteresting to develop and maintain an identity that is radically different fro that in Real Life.

In particular, almost no females have ever faked to be male. Particularly in the case of reputable individuals of higher status, there is a strong inclination to shape an avatar that is resembling the physical person in stature, clothing and behavior. When former Virginia governor Mark Warner stepped into Second Life as the first US politician in August , the clothes of his avatar "could have come from the Governor's own closet - blue blazer, white shirt, red power tie, khaki slacks" Scola However, there is a strong tendency toward idealization: avatars a constructed to conform to the "ideal self" of its creators.

Thus, most of them are nicely dressed and about 20 years old Kirckpatrick , even extremely obese Americans will appear with slim figures, and almost everybody seems to follow the newest fashionable trends. The average height of avatars in Second Life is 7 feet tall. Everyone seems thinner, and usually more attractive. From a sociological perspective, it is fascinating to notice that virtual gatherings have the capacity to combine functionalities of informal primary groups and highly formalized forms of communication.

In terms of Erving Goffman , they are similar to face-to-face meetings in the sense that they can combine focused and unfocused social interaction. In teleconferences as well as in IRC's and Email exchanges, social interactions are completely reduced to focussed interaction centering on the explicit formal issues, while in SL, such exchanges are embedded in a wider setting that encompasses also.

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As we all know from common wisdom, such casual informal exchanges are not irrelevant, but may be critical in establishing interpersonal bonds and multilateral networks that can be important resources in the future Kirckpatrick While certainly not substituting the flavor of Real Life meetings, there is much evidence such "virtual encounters" are found substantially rewarding by all participants, because they are taking place in the frame of a situated social environment: so that they have much more similarity to face to face contacts than simple chats or email exchanges.

Scola On the other hand, virtual gatherings can be substitute for highly formalized communicative exchanges because they are much more consistent with high "functional specificity" in terms of Talcott Parsons 68ff. When people meet physically at a place, they have no choice than to bring their entire body and their whole personality to the occasion.

As a consequence, they have many channels they can use for personal expression. For instance, they can enhance their visual appearance with fragrances or accompany their talk with paralinguistic cues and various forms of nonverbal gesture behaviour. In virtual worlds like Second Life, communication is "delegated" to avatars that represent only a small, highly simplified part of the human personalities behind.

Avatars display their "personality" more exclusively by their visual appearance: their bodily characteristics as well as their clothing and accessories, Therefore, their appearance and traits are very crucial because they will usually remain constant during the interaction and - as no other information is available - they will heavily predetermine the roles to be played and the impacts made on other actors.

For this reason, much of the SL economy centers on "fashionable clothing shops", and there is much demand for services of professional "virtual fashionists" who consult newcomers or participants eager to visit highly exclusive gatherings or events. As personal idiosyncrasies associated with particular human bodies and characters are missing, virtual interaction can more uncompromisingly be shaped by conventional standards generated and implemented by specific social institutions: e.

Women and Second Life : Essays on Virtual Identity, Work and Play

For instance, my communication with an online female partner may be obsessively shaped by the knowledge that she is a woman, while my face-to-face interactions with the same person may be less "sexist" because attention may be more directed to other personality traits not related to gender. It can be hypothesized that the use of avatars may even amplify the power of social cues, insofar as such social identities are not only known in an abstract way, but they can be constantly seen in the shape given to the virtual puppet.

Thus, relationships between males and females, teachers and pupils, supervisors and subordinates may be played out in very pure form when the status differentials are manifested in different size, clothing or behaviour of the corresponding avatars. In particular, we may observe that many avatars have no personal profile and social life apart from the basic fact that they are representatives of a particular group, organization or institution. For instance, a business meeting may easily be nothing but a business meeting because the participants show a corresponding appearance and behaviour - and nothing else.

Given the extreme importance of avatar appearance as a determinant of social expectation and social behaviour, it is not astonishing that this appearance is a major determinant of group membership and social cleavages in SL. Unquestionably, the imminent transition to voice communication planned for Sept.

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As a consequence, there will be less opportunity for pretending a false identity e. There will be a stronger connection between the avatar and the Real Person behind: eliminating the option that robots are used or that the same avatar e. As a stable, indivisible object that can easily be perceived by everybody in proximity, it offers a reliable anchor for attributing actions and for biographical accounts.

It could be hypothesized that with increasing diversification of social memberships and roles, there is a rising need for referring to the human body as a compensating integrative element. Therefore, face-to-face interactions may become increasingly important for individuals in order to feel that they are unities and perceived by others as such unities despite the highly partialized subidentities they project when participating in specialized groupings and when playing specific roles.

Without primary interactions, individuals may easily transform into "dividuals" that would become segmented into rather unrelated partialized selves. Online interactions entail exactly this danger because they facilitate the division into segmented personalities each of which can be acted out on specialized channels, without being anchored in an overarching physical substrate. Certainly, there "is" a single actor behind all these specialized performances, but its unity doesn't become visible to anybody outside himself, so that each actor has to maintain the cohesion of his personality by his own efforts, because this unity is no longer socially reinforced.

In his seminal work on the "crossing of social circles", the German sociologist Georg Simmel concludes that modern societies are characterized by a specific form of labour division that catalyzes individualization. In premodern societies, role differentiation was mainly engendering interindividual divisions by placing each individual completely into a grid of specific status positions and roles. Thus, feudal societies were fragmented into tightly integrated collectivities of nobles, priests, monks, peasants and artisans of different trades that maintained different collective identities and specific cultural and behavioral traditions.

In modern societies, by contrast, role differentiation tends to catalyze intraindividual cleavages because each individual participates in several highly independent societal groupings and institutions e. As each individual has his own way of combining different roles and switching between them, he or she becomes automatically different from all others: living his or her particular biography and developing idiosyncratic character traits and points of view. Simmel However, segregation between individuals goes along with a decline in overall personal consistency and integration: individuals become internally fragmented by conflicting values and norms: experiencing "cross pressures" S.

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Lipset that hinder them to engage in unconditional commitments and to make stable, consistent decisions e. In the RealWorld, the accumulation and acting out of different roles is of course constrained by various physical factors: especially by the inability to be in different locations at the same moment or within short spans of time. While vibrant urban environments provide certainly much better opportunities in this respect than poor rural regions, modern communication technologies have fundamentally reduced or even eliminated the salience of such locational factors by providing much extended opportunities for role switching at any time and any location on earth.

Look at typical Internet surfers or mobile phone users how they use these technologies for changing rapidly between highly divergent roles: adopting the receptive mode of news gatherers or music listeners, ordering a ticket or a book from Amazon, looking around for potential spouses on a partner matching site, coordinating meetings with collaborators, keeping in touch with the girl-friend by empathic "grooming calls", engaging in lively chats or blog discussions, subscribing to a new gaming community, updating the personal website etc.

At least the more interactive online activities fulfil Simmels premise that they force individuals to segment their personality by adopting a specified social role, and by displaying a strategically tailored identity that may differ from the faces showed in other social engagements. In their early studies on IRC's and Multi-user Domains,, Sherry Turkle and Elisabeth Reid have emphasized how online communication can facilitate the articulation of multiple and changing representation of the self, and that the salience of virtual personae may become so pronounced that differences between the real and the artificial life spheres become blurred.

Turkle ; ; Reid By trying out alternative roles and personalities widely apart from RealLife-identity, individuals may enlarge their social experience and discover new, hitherto neglected aspects and developmental capacities of their own self Turkle In this sense, we may say that the electronic media are carrying on a process of intraindividual fragmentation that has earlier been initiated in urban styles of life: aiming a state when "personality" is no longer concentrated on the physical individuals located at a single place, but distributed among many contexts where the individual is partially present with his voice, his writing or - like in SL - his avatar Dvorsky SL seems to be a particularly potent "personality fragmentizer" because by creating an avatar, the individual gives rise to a visible and stable representative of himself that easily becomes an "attractor" for many new social norms and expectations which have no connection to any other roles played out either in other online settings or in RealLife.

Investing part of my personality in an avatar means: committing it to a figure that afterwards changes myself because he lives a life of its own: gets integrated into various social networks or groupings, assumes a status in a virtual stratification system heavily based on real estate property , and has to fulfil many norms and role obligations emerging out of informal social relationships and formal membership involvements.

Users tend to become attached to their SL personas; their avatars are their extended self. While role performances may be rather dissociated from the personality behind especially in cases of pronounced "role distance" , we know from many studies that they can nevertheless feed back on the actor by modifying his cognitive perspectives as well as his normative commitments and his behavioral motivations and goals. Rather, it is almost an initiation, a rite-de-passage.

Gender and height, race or breed, hair style and name — depending on the world you are about to enter, those can be either changed later, or will be you for the years that you play with this character. It is you as you want to appear, it is the way you want to be known, it is the foundation of your brand new identity. Thus, the question arises whether - and to what degree - the avatar can in turn become a source of personal experience, learning, and resocialization.

For instance, individuals may well develop the need to perform similar things in RL as their avatar can do within "Second Life". It is so easy to externalize your intent in the form of the avatar that it does inevitably make you more demanding on the physical world.

People come back to reality and they say, 'Wait a minute. I need to be able to do the same things here. I think, therefore I should be able to be that thing that I think. While many will turn to virtual worlds for diversifying their personal identities, others may use them for amplifying their single core personality by extending the time and reach of their personal presence. Politicians, Pop Stars and many other people of high public reputation are pressured to be on several locations simultaneously, or on very different locations within very short time.

Evidently such role expectations collide with the hard physical restrictions of the Real World: e. The Internet provides many technical tools for diminishing or even eliminating such role incompatibilities.

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For instance, politicians are able to "be present" on blogs, in newsgroups or in virtual chatrooms irrespective of their geographical location. Metaverses like Second Life have definitely extended such possibilities: by providing tools for maintaining a "virtual presence" at a concrete virtual place with an avatar: a highly customized simulacrum of oneself.

Top 3. On the future of avatars. It is evident that today's avatars represent a rather early stage in a longer-term evolution, because so many potentials of virtual "dummy personalities" have not yet been discovered and exploited. Two developments seem particularly likely to be realized within the near or middle-range future.