I, or, rather, "I," have two Facebook accounts, both as Second Life avatars. One is my "real" avatar, the one I use for work, SL building and design, presentations, tutoring, etc. The other is a "fake" avatar, a group account owned in triplicate by several of us on the project (but mainly inhabited by me) for the purposes of constructing a Cautionary Tale for today’s digital generation of transparentists, so they can start to think about how posting the minutia of their social life online might adversely affect them later, in their job searches and workplaces.
I initially joined Facebook only for work, because we were evaluating new technologies such as social networking, and I needed to have some experience with the interface if I might be called upon to design or adapt one. I used my avatar name and screenshot for the profile photo because I (as the "real" me) have a strong digital presence anyway; if you Google me my portfolio and my articles come up; I’m "found" often enough, I don’t think I need to make it easier. But as I use Facebook more, the account, safely behind the screen of the avatar, is becoming less formal and more playful, more like "me," I suppose, although not fully. I added a little blogging app to post comments and thoughts on the digital landscape to my friends at work.
The second account profiles a different person, a late-20s extravert, partying her way through her MBA in Marketing. She’s posting all sorts of personal details and photos about her and her friends, adding cute little third-party apps like Beer Pong and Party Space, and generally acting her age. Which is interesting because it’s certainly not how I acted in my late 20s, as I was Very Serious back then, first about Saving the World, and then about Art. I did have my share of exploits but unless I dig out my old diaries [shudder], the world is not going to know, or care. Anyway, this second avatar is prettier, dresses much more provocatively, goes clubbing and to social events, and is definitely looking to be out there and connect. All in Second Life, of course. On Facebook she sends cute notes back and forth, posts photos, and has lots of digital "friends," because the more the merrier, right?
So the other night I had to take the second avatar out clubbing to get more photos to post on her Facebook account. Which entailed some shopping in SL, and then pulling myself away from the things I actually wanted to check out in-world (streaming folk performances, country singer-songwriters, various digital cafes), and over to dance clubs and meet ‘n’ greet spaces instead. But while I was grabbing the screenshots I needed, what started to happen is that one avatar got jealous of the other. And then vice versa.
The first avatar wanted the cool outfits of the second one, and also the dance animations, so I had to log out and go back in as "me" and get them for her, I mean me, and then teleport to some of the party places so I could see and be seen there, just like the second one was. Not that I talked to anyone either time, but still. And now the first one wants to post the better snapshots to her profile, I mean my profile. But even though I have a more relaxed attitude towards Facebook now, I am not sure exactly how much of "me" I really want up there.
Then, the second avatar decided that she wanted to be taken seriously and wanted to start a blog and make insightful comments on her experiences like the first one does. And she wanted to start messaging my friends, but as me, not as her! So far I haven’t let her do that, she has to message people as "her," and I won’t let her do too much of that anyway, because they’re my friends after all.
Neither of these avatars are fully formed aspects of my personality. Both have significant false elements, and one would certainly need more than two avatars anyway if we’re talking about all the facets of someone’s personality, which in addition to being large and numerous, is fluid and not easy to stabilize within subsets of finite components. Nevertheless, both avatars each have at least some aspects of "me," and some aspects of public faces I have presented at various times and in various places. Not perhaps the most interesting aspects, but still, I can own up to the parts that are there.
So that’s when I realized that I am actually the Steppenwolf (as are we all, according to Hesse). And these avatars are at play in the Magic Theater, where we anthropomorphize our psychological contents, and externalize our personal fragments, to try out various scenarios as we act our way hopefully out of neurosis and towards health, ideally into the creative and progressive ferment that fully realized social entities can foment. "Try out this social group, try acting this way." "Nope, that didn’t work, try again with a different approach, and in pursuit of a different goal." We’re doing this in our heads constantly, but we’re manifesting and projecting the contents onto real Others and external RL situations, concurrently with the internal dramatic experiments.
And with Second Life being such an easy fit for an overactive introverted imagination, this tendency is augmented in the virtual space. It is disconcerting and even a little destabilizing to see psychological fragments, part real, part fictional, literally running around in digital bodies in their own virtual worlds. But, perhaps in this way they are made more overt and conscious. Which, since conscious things lend themselves more readily to analysis, might be a good thing?
Or maybe I’ll just close out all the accounts.