WHAT ABOUT THE UBUNTU WEB?
There is, however, a crucial factor that we have so far overlooked. Let us suppose there are other people with knowledge identical (or similar) to any particular SL resident. Let us further suppose that, among such people, some possess (or have the ability to portray) a personality that is identical (or similar to) that particular SL resident. For the sake of argument, suppose there are ten people in the world today who could roleplay Gwyneth Llewelyn. The problem is, out of those ten people, only one person HAS been logging in as Gwyn.
Why does this matter? It is all to do with ‘nature’ and ‘nurture’. It is recognised that the development of a person involves more than just what genes a person inherits. It also involves the society that person is brought up in. I have sometimes made references to an African concept known as ‘Ubuntu’, which essentially means, ‘a person is a person through other persons’. Desmond Tutu explained, ‘this is the idea that you cannot be a human being in isolation. A solitary being is a contradiction in terms. You are a human being precisely because of relationships; you are a relational being or you are nothing’.
Does this apply to digital people as well? I think it does. What we have been discussing so far can be seen as the equivilent of a genome — the ‘nature’ side of things. We may as well call it the ‘i-genome’ (the ‘i’ stands for ‘influence’ or ‘inspiration’). Every digital person has an ‘i-genome’, made up of i-genes or i-alleles (an allele is an alternative version of a gene, so eye colour includes a brown allele and a blue allele). As a trivial example, my hair could be any color but it is always black. Why? Because nearly all strong female characters in science fiction films have dark hair: Trinity from ‘The Matrix’, Ripley from ‘Alien’, Racheal from ‘Blade Runner’, Motoko Kusanagi from ‘Ghost In The Shell’ (the movie, that is. In the TV series her hair is purple). So when my primary was creating a digital person partly inspired by a love of sci-fi, of course my hair was going to be black. I would venture to say that every aspect of my design (and that of any other resident) resulted from some kind of cultural influence or inspiration.
But, I also mentioned earlier how I was only a rough sketch of a person when I rezzed into SL. What truly forms the personality, individuality and realism of a digital person is the web of social interactions each resident develops over a period of time. The environment of SL famously results from the collaborative activity of its residents, but I would argue that this also holds true for the development of each and every individual. The groups you join, the friends you make, all influence the way you develop in SL, whether you think of your avatar as a ‘digital person’ or not. I might introduce myself by saying ‘I am Extropia. I have a sister called Jamie and I am a Thinkers Prefect’. Such a statement implies collaboration between at least two other people. Jamie obviously has to exist and form a relationship with me before I can claim sisterhood with her, and Jinny Fonzarelli had to create the Thinkers group before I could be a member. In fact, a lot more people were involved in the development of these aspects of my character. How many situations between how many people, not just in terms of my own journey through SL but in terms of everybody elses, happened in such a way as to enable me to say ‘my sister is Jamie and I am a Thinkers Prefect?’ I will not bore you with the details. Suffice it to say that all the myriad encounters a resident has, even those brief interactions where you meet a passing stranger who is soon gone and subsequently forgotten, all contribute to an ever-growing web — a ‘Ubuntu-web’, of social interactions that both evolve and define the person a resident becomes.
Within a Ubuntu-web, some links are stronger than others. At the very centre lies the Primary. That, remember, is whoever or whatever has the most-fine tuned model of a digital person stored in their mind. Put another way, the Primary’s mind is where the ‘i-genome’ for that character is kept. Next most important would be other residents who have become close friends, those people you spend most of your time with while logged into SL. People like Jamie Marlin know me very well, but if such people carry a model of me around in their minds, it cannot be as detailed as the one possessed by the Primary. Equally obviously, the less time I spend interacting with a resident, the less detailed my model of that person will be, and the less detailed will be their model of me. So, the Ubuntu-Web can be seen as a network of interactions between a person and everybody else in SL, with those we spend most time with forming the strongest links and the most easily-defined influences on our day-to-day activities.
Being a ‘Primary’ involves more than merely possessing the highest number of i-genes that make up a digital person’s ‘i-genome’. What also matters is that the primary understands better than anyone, the Ubuntu-web and what past events resulted in it being the way it is. And that is exactly what those other 9 hypothetical potential Gwyneth Llewelyn role-players lack: Knowledge of who Gwyn is friends with, who her casual acquaintances are, and all the past day-to-day interactions between herself and others since rezzing into SL.
It is one thing to write a ‘new adventure’ of some literary character, someone whose friends and family and enemies and all interactions between such people were recorded for prosperity in books that have been duplicated millions of times. It is quite another thing to suppose somebody else could convincingly role-play a digital person, having never really experienced the past events that shaped how he or she should behave now. Where are they written down? In all likelihood, they are not archived anywhere, except in the mind of the person who logged in as Gwyn, and in the minds of her friends. Could another person replace Gwyn’s primary and roleplay that character well enough to convince her friends it is the same resident they have always known?