What does your profile picture say about you? What about your avatar? or your facebook cover page?
Some time ago Ben Myers (from the excellent blog Faith and Theology) shared some thoughts towards the development of a Theology of the Avatar in a post titled Once more on the self in cyberspace: a theology of avatars. He suggested 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. I know that I am reflective about what images I choose to ‘represent’ me online. But then, this could be because I am aesthetically intrigued.
Why did you choose the profile picture you use? What are you trying to say? Do you use different avatars in different online contexts?
I’d be interested in hearing your responses to these questions!
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 exhilarating (and sometimes slightly uncomfortable) feeling of different parts of our lives coalescing.
In thinking about what it means to live in all realms of our lives, online, and offline, it is helpful to think about how we present ourselves, both consciously and unconsciously. One of my colleagues Wes VanderLugt wrote a helpful post about theodrama, facebook and Twitter, titled Performing Life on a Virtual Stage. While we may quibble with virtual being inaccurate when it comes to most online experiences I think much of what he talks about (in relation to habits and learned behaviour) is still relevant. There are of course still realms online which might accurately be referred to as virtual.
While I have had little exposure to the full experience of virtual worlds like 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.
It begs the question: 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 track (though not directly on point) is Alan Noble’s discussion over at Christ and Pop Culture in a post titled 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. In some ways this post extends much of the discussion that I’ve seen happening here on Big Bible.
So let’s start with those questions – Why did you choose the profile picture you use? What are you trying to say, if anything? Have you ever thought about portraying something in particular with the images you choose to represent you? Do you use different avatars/images in different online contexts?
An earlier version of this post was originally published on Transpositions: theology, imagination, and the arts with the title Avatars, Profile Pics, and the Visual Representation of Self-image. Those parts are reposted here with permission.