The online extension of self: Avatars, Profile Pics, and the Visual Representation of Self-image

by Anna Blanch on July 20, 2009

What does your profile picture say about you?

What about your avatar?

A few days ago Ben Myers shared some thoughts towards a Theology of the Avatar in a post titled Once more on the self in cyberspace: a theology of avatars. He suggests that the visual representation of ourselves online – whether it is the profile picture we choose or the 2 or 3D avatar that represents us – is not a mere representation but rather an extension of ourselves. This distinction has some powerful implications; although they may not be the kind of implications all of us would be completely comfortable with.

Why did you choose that profile picture? What are you trying to say? Are you trying to say anything at all?

Ben Myers thinks you are and, frankly, so do I.

It is a fact of life that with different people and in different situations we present different aspects of our selves. While I believe that ultimately our characters shine through (for good or ill) in every situation I think reality suggests that the characteristics of specific relationships conditions those features of ourselves that are foregrounded in any given situation. Otherwise, the idea of “world’s colliding” would not be so apparent to us – that slightly exhilirating (and sometimes slightly uncomfortable) feeling of different parts of our lives coalescing.

While I have had little exposure to the full experience of Second Life it appears that the creation of an avatar to 3 dimensionally (on a flat screen) represent oneself in that world incorporates a range of judgements. Is this a representation of who we think we are? who we would like to be, or look like? or a metaphoric representation of self-perception rather than the result of an attempt to be literal. Those previously hidden and repressed desires or sense of self that find an expression in the “extension” of self within virutal environments offer insight into how one wishes to present themselves to that community.

On a similar, but not directly related track is Alan Noble’s discussion over at Christ and Pop Culture on My Online Image: Facebook, Twitter, and Privacy. Alan explores whether we should share just because we can. As always the discussion that follows the post is thought-provoking.

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