Category Archives: Identity

Issues of identity within Second Life.

Actions Speak

I was trying to come up with a response to Mera’s thought stream about how we derive identity from activity, as opposed to from mere appearance or behavior (as explored previously in the “Redux series” that bounced between me, her, and Tateru), but I see that Jacek has beat me to it.

A lot of people in both RL and SL define themselves by what they do, to be sure. Probably the number one most important fact about Tateru, for instance, is not “Tateru looks this-and-such a way” or “Tateru wears these clothes,” but “Tateru helps newbies.” That’s the ultimate source of her influence, and a very powerful one indeed. (I think it may have influenced Mera’s course in SL, for instance.) Similarly, the major fact everyone remembers about Six Kennedy is “Six designs and sells good hair.” And that must be true, else why would Danielle drop so much money over at GuRL 6? šŸ™‚

Some of us do struggle with our identity in this respect. I know it took me a while to let go of defining myself as “the guy that runs the Cutlass Club.” (In some respects, I seem to still be clinging to it. I haven’t updated this blog’s template, for instance, to point to our new venture rather than the old one. Yes, I’m a lazy bastard.) Now I’m trying to redefine my own identity. Danielle, too, seems to be searching for a way to define herself other than as “the spoiled trophy wife of Erbo Evans.” Either Don’t Panic! Designs or the Gin Rummy may very well do that for her (and I give her full credit for starting both of those to anyone who asks). And those of us that are SL bloggers have an additional outlet to express our identity, as I’ve previously mentioned, so one thing that will always be true is, “Erbo blogs about SL.” Is that enough continuity? It may very well be…

Mera asks a very poignant question in Jacek’s comments: “I am, and continue to be *myself*. Moreso in SL than anywhere else. The worry is, is that enough?” I guess the only rational response I can make to that is, “If being yourself is not enough, what is?”

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The Song Remains The Same: Identity Cues

(or, “Well, Erbo, you wanted excitement…”)

First of all, Tateru: Touche. But I note that, even as a furry, you’ve retained some of your “visual identity cues” from your “standard” avatar…the dress and the flower are the most obvious two. For me, that made that image of you instantly recognizable, despite the furry body. I’ve seen this with another of my friends, too; when matt27 Churchill went furry for awhile, he retained sufficient identity cues, such as the rose he carries, to provide a “bridge” between his previous identity and that one.

This makes me wonder: When people change their visual identity in such a manner, do they often leave “identity cues” like that, consciously or subconsciously, that provide this kind of bridge? Certainly, I have done so…as in the case of my “Goth Erbo” appearance. (And I wish I had a picture of it to post here…but I couldn’t find one either on Snapzilla or Electric Minds.) The body shape is still my own, of course, but, in addition, I added a silver version of my Bent to the outfit. And it still felt like me, despite the pale-bordering-on-ghostly skin, the black eyeliner, black lipstick, black nail polish, and black hair…none of which I would ever do to myself in RL.

But there’s another point to consider, one which I neglected to make in my last post…not all “identity cues” are visual. A big identity cue for me is typing style, and vocabulary, as well. For instance, only Torley seems to use the words “Yayzerama!” and “Thanxies.” (When I was talking with her not long ago, I actually used the word “kewlzerama” when I spoke at one point, mimicking her style. She said, “I’ve got to use that word more often!” šŸ™‚ ) It could be as simple as how people express laughter; Travis would say “hehe” where I might say “LOL,” and someone else might say “lol” in lower-case. It could be people’s use of “smilies” in text; I tend to the three-character “:-)” where others favor the simpler “:)”. (Onionpencil Musashi often uses “XD”; I never quite “got” that one…) At an extreme, my coworker Ed uses a very “clipped” way of speaking in chat and IM, which is sometimes hard for me (and others) to understand. I tend to the opposite end myself, trying to type in a more “literary” fashion, though sometimes I forget my capitalization if I’m in a hurry. (And don’t forget gestures! Many people make more use of SL’s gestures than I do, and they’ll prefer a variety of different ones. I don’t use them quite as much because I’m always forgetting the commands or key-bindings.) Sadly, Tateru, I haven’t spent enough time around you to know your typing style as well as I might/should…

Those of us that are bloggers and blog-commenters have another way of expressing our identity, too…through our writings here online. I’ve had more than one person in-world tell me that they liked my writing style here on Evans Avenue Exit, for instance. It also offers us an opportunity to influence the opinions of those people who are not (yet) Residents. And that brings us full-circle…Tateru, your change in appearance didn’t alter my first impression of you, mainly because, via your blog, I had already formed a “first impression” of you before I ever set foot on the Grid. It was a favorable one, to be sure…you struck me as an intelligent person, and someone who knew an awful lot about online community, a subject near and dear to my own heart. And, as one of the first SL bloggers I ever read, you may have helped influence me to “take the plunge” in the first place. How’s that for a job of “mentoring”?

(Oh, and while we’re owning our own clarity here…Mera, at least part of my reaction to your new appearance was overexaggeration, for dramatic effect. But you probably already figured that out.)

UPDATE: Herewith, for your entertainment, is Goth Erbo:

Also, read the comments for Danielle’s important observation and my reply.

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Identity And Appearance, Redux

Mera seems surprised at her reaction to her new look. While I was among the most startled by her new look, which appears to almost completely eschew the color for which she is best known, her reaction got me thinking: How much of our Second Life’s identity is defined by our appearance?

This isn’t the first time this topic has come up; Tateru actually wrote about this last month. In her posting, she mainly dealt with the way people expose aspects of themself through their choice of appearance in SL. There’s a flip side to this, of course; how does our appearance influence other people’s perceptions of us…particularly when some aspect of that appearance becomes iconic of us?

Iconic appearances are certainly common among SL personalities. Of course, everybody knows the first example to cite: Torley. Torley is actually a unique case, because she changes her appearance so frequently. (Of course, this can also be interpreted as bringing out other members of the “Council of Torleys” to play in SL…which leads me to wonder if there is not in fact an eternal Torley-spirit, which chose to give its name to the young man who became the Torley we all know and love. Kind of like Pater Pan describing how “the spirit of the name chose me” in his name tale, in Norman Spinrad’s Child of Fortune. But I digress.) One constant is always present, though…the colors of the watermelon, bright pink and green. Anywhere I see those colors juxtaposed, I suspect Torley’s influence…and without them, Torley would not be, well, Torley.

There are other good examples too…Tateru’s Victorian-Gothic attire, Travis Lambert’s “Brian from Family Guy” avatar, Akela‘s white wolf, Dolmere‘s skeleton, Aimee Weber’s butterfly wings…the list goes on. And, for Mera, the iconic aspect of her appearance is…the purple. She herself has encouraged it…witness her blog tagline, her group title, her “typing” animation override. For her to turn around and seemingly abandon it…well, it just breaks our metaphors. Looking at Mera and not seeing purple has, in effect, changed her identity in our minds.

By the way, Mera, that’s the answer to your question about “why didn’t anyone notice my lack of glasses?”: When you change something as fundamental as the purple is for you, all other changes become trivial by comparison, and easy to miss. Besides, glasses, or lack thereof, are easy to miss anyway. I wear them myself on occasion–I was wearing them when I spoke at Chris’ memorial service, as the photograph will attest–and I don’t think anyone really notices one way or the other. (I wear them to give myself a slightly older and more distinguished appearance on occasion…they make me look more like my father, I think. In RL, I only wear glasses when I don’t have my contacts in.)

Do I have any iconic appearance qualities? Probably just my own face; I set it up to resemble my RL face, and haven’t changed it since Day One. (I adjusted my height…but that’s not the same thing.) There is my “Default Erbo” outfit, but I don’t always wear it…and Danielle would probably prefer I wear it as little as possible. Sometimes, too, I switch out the Bent for the Superman pendant that was a gift from Danielle, or I wear that pendant with other outfits as appropriate.

What would have to change about us before we’d no longer be recognizable as us? That’s a good question to keep in mind…especially in SL, where we can all look like anything imaginable.

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A Question of Identity


–>
Sixty-six days ago, or thereabouts, I took the plunge, and clicked that button on secondlife.com that said, “Join Now!”

Why’d I wait so long? Well, up till then, I didn’t have a computer capable of running Second Life; however, now I did, and I’d installed everything else on it I could. CPU? Athlon64 3200+, check. Video? Radeon X1600 Pro card with 512 Mb RAM, check. Bandwidth? Cable modem, check. Time to overcome those last-minute jitters and do this thing.

The naming of names…”Erbo” was obvious; I’m already known by that handle everywhere from Electric Minds to a variety of other blogs out there. It’s just an abbreviated form of my full name. I’ve been known as “Erbo” since I was in college, even to certain family members. But you have to choose your last name from a restricted set that SL gives you when you sign up. I pick “Evans” for its Colorado connection; Mount Evans, as well as Evans Avenue, which is near where I live. (Though there was an Evans Avenue back in Santa Barbara, too…actually in Summerland, between Santa Barbara and Carpinteria.) So “Erbo Evans” is semantically equal to “ErboColo,” my Xbox Live Gamertag.

Dropped on Orientation Island. I follow the tutorials carefully, trying to understand what this is all about. At the “Appearance” tutorial I stop to mold the face of the standard “Ken” avatar into an approximation of my own. It helped having been enshrined in the Cartoon Universe already, thanks to Nitrozac. I haven’t changed that appearance since then, except to correct my height to something more approximating how tall I really am. But I have augmented that shape with a better skin, decent prim hair, and new contacts to turn it into an even better representation of me. (Actually, it’s sort of an idealized version of me. I’m somewhat more chunky in RL.) Even my standard clothes, the outfit I call “Default Erbo,” closely resemble what I wear to work each day.

Finally, I fly across the chasm to the Graduation Pavilion. I eschew the concept of Help Island and click the teleport straight to the Mainland. Next thing I know, I’ve landed at Waterhead.

Unbeknownst to me at the time…the adventure was just beginning.

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