Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year; and, Two Cheers for the Anonymity of the Aetherwebs

I'd like to wish everyone a happy, healthy, and steamy new year. May your gears never need oiling, your goggles remain clear, and your airships run true!

Thank goodness for scheduling of Journal entries, because, at this time, I might have just dragged my sorry butt out of bed, having recovered from a decent but not obscenely-priced champagne the night before, wondering what the blazes happened to the decent parades that used to run on New Year's Day. In short, not coherent. In the event that what follows is equally incoherent, just pretend I wrote it fifteen minutes ago, still slightly groggy.

I'm not much for making resolutions, mainly because they are too often broken by mid-month, but I'll make two for the new year. First, I resolve to procrastinate less. Honestly, I'd be a much more productive person if only I got on with it, rather than using every excuse to avoid the current projects, including surfing odd Aetherweb sites, checking Twitter incessantly, honing my Solitaire skills, and a dozen other time-tested techniques. Second, I resolve to talk to more people in-world. I can go days, it seems, without doing more than making the occasional comment in ISC chat, which doesn't really count. All of you nice people out there, and I keep to myself mostly. Not that I mind my company, but really...

Okay, on to more structured navel-gazing.

I've been thinking about Dio's piece (not nearly as profanity-filled as she implied, but, still, keep impressionable young eyes away from the screen) in which she notes that the "real life"/Second Life dichotomy is false, that there is only "life." Some of us choose to live part of that life in front of the computer screen, typing away, programming, watching YouTube videos, or, in a small number of cases, having an avatar interact with other avatars. Fair enough, and I'm not disagreeing with her in what follows.However, while I can't separate typist from avatar completely - heck, I often don't try hard, as the same introvert who uses humor to substitute for conversation appears on both sides of the screen - I can use the opportunity of a virtual existence to experience things I cannot or will not experience in a more physical form. Sometimes it's wearing things I would never otherwise wear; sometimes it's seeing a virtual museum, or an interactive exhibit; sometimes it's jumping into an airship and striking out for points unknown; and sometimes it's just having a conversation with a person whom I'd never know but for the crazy little virtual world we inhabit, on a topic that would be of no interest whatsoever to my non-virtual friends and colleagues. So thank you, virtual friends.

Another benefit to having at least some separation between "real" and virtual selves is that it provides some metaphysical distance in a conversation. (Perhaps that's a disadvantage to those trying to have a virtual relationship, but that's a subject for another time.) One of the downsides to the relative anonymity of the Aetherwebs is that some people feel freed of the responsibility to be polite. Those who would never consider saying to a colleague - or even a stranger - "Dude, you're a #*$(@ idiot and you talk out of your *!@" sometimes feel no compunction about saying that online. But the same aspect of that anonymity that empowers the jerks can also power the rest of us. I recall an episode of Mur Lafferty's "I Should be Writing" podcast in which she recommends writers' workshops for critiques of works in progress, but then notes that many people feel more comfortable both giving and receiving criticism through an on-line group. Not because the person giving criticism is free to be rude and profane, but because the very anonymity of the situation allows the giver to be direct and the recipient to accept the feedback without embarrassment.

Our masters back at the Lab That Dare Not Speak Its Name clearly want our world to be a sanitized, corporate environment in order to attract sanitized, corporate business. I've mused before that I don't see how this happens in a virtual world where one can't even select a last name - I suppose I could be "RhianonJamesonAtMicrosoft Writer" (or some such LL-issued last name) (substituting actual first and last names and actual employer name), but how unwieldy is that? - but it also cuts against one of the joys of immersion in a virtual world. Without the freedom of kinda-sorta anonymity, we may as well interact with e-mail, instant messages, telephone calls, and the occasional video conference. That is to say, just like going to work. And where's the fun in that?


Dio said...

well I will admit that I did go back and search out all occurrences of the phrase "fucking slack-jawed douchebag" and replace it with either the term "author" or "cartoonist" as was appropriate.

As for your point about anonymity, I think it is well taken, but at the same time still does not erase the fact that the media or venue in which you do something (or under whatever psuedonym you chose to do it) does not entirely disconnect you from the other planes of your life's exisitence.

If anything, what you are describing seems to be an example of the technology giving you the opportunity (with or without the benefit of anonymity) to expand and extend and enhance that one life--if there is a membrane between the cells that are the two worlds, then anonymity is one of the transport proteins that facilitate the osmosis of social and intellectual nutrients across the divide. But while the cells are separate, they still form one organism.

But is a strange and inconsistent reality that is evolving here. I will be the first to admit that in some ways I treat the two worlds as being so different, that at times, I think of Dio as simply a character created by her typist....yet at other times I am more honest about the fact that voice that is speaking is most certainly mine, though freed from certain limitations by the consciously created identity that is expressing them.

I wonder if Aurore Dupin spoke about George Sand in the 3rd person, as if he were someone else?

Rhianon Jameson said...

No disagreement here - anonymous or not (and, really, after a while, even the "anonymous" avatar has her own reputation, for better or worse), the person moving the mouse is the same on either side of the screen.

I do like the efforts that some folks have taken to make their on-line personas consciously different from their real personas. In New Babbage, arch-villain Doctor Obolensky concocts plans of world domination; in Steelhead, Dr. Alter and Dr. Mason devised their own nefarious plans. All three are charming and gracious out of character. No doubt Deadwood has more than its share of villains, drunks, bumblers, prostitutes, and such who are, naturally, none of the above when the connection to the Aetherwebs is broken. (Not to mention the children in various RP areas.)

Maybe authors with pseudonyms just use the royal we. :)