What is it that is actually doing the job of drawing GP irresistibly back to the Login screen? Is it Gwyn herself, or is it merely the online friends, groups and other facets of the social networks that GP built up through, and accesses via, the ‘Gwyn’ avatar? Well, what IS Gwyn, anyway? The standard answer is that Gwyn is GP, but Gwyn herself recognised that this is, at best, only a partial answer. In her essay on ‘post-immersionism’, she wrote, “the method in which a digital self actually becomes more real than the physical self, in the sense that it accrues from an ever-expanding narrative that encompasses an increasing number of digital interactions with other humans — is what I call post-immersionism: the point when a digital self is at the focus and “spills over” to the physical self, in the sense that the physical self is merely defined as the background for the digital self to thrive”.
Gwyn, then, exists not in the mind of the primary alone, but as a pattern distributed, maintained and developed via interactions with the other people who make up her ‘Ubuntu Web’, my term for the ‘ever expanding narrative’ of ‘digital interactions’. Notice, also, that Gwyn alludes to *her* existence as becoming more solid as interactions focus on her more than the person behind the scenes; her puppeteer, GP.
The following quote, from Wagner James Au’s ‘The Making of SL’, seems to be an example of post-immersionism in action: “Google searches for my real name first turned up my avatar, or sites associated with my avatar”. He goes on to comment that this is “a sobering realization, since a writer on high-tech issues survives inasmuch as Google recognises his existence; in that sense, my success was now dependent on my avatar, Hamlet Au”. This is hardly unprecedented, of course. ‘Elton John’ is a household name but ‘Reg Dwight’ is not. If a stage name or a pen-name can become more recognisable, why not the name a person is known by in cyberspace?
For some people, the relationship between the person and the avatar is not so much akin to ‘Mary Anne Evans and George Elliot’ (the latter being the pseudonym of the first), but more like ‘George Elliot’ and ‘Silas Marner’ (the latter being a character invented by the former). The author Tim Guest once attended a conference held by the famous Anshe Chung, noting that she made repeated references to “my creator, and in fact she requested those present focus their attention on Anshe, the virtual self… rather than the real person“. I happen to know the name of Anshe’s primary, as would anyone who has Googled ‘Anshe Chung’. The same goes for ‘Prokofy Neva’ and ‘Aimee Weber’. Running searches for those names will bring up sites that tell you what the primary of each person is called, if you care to know. Gwyn, though, has taken post-immersionism to a whole other level. Googling her name fails to bring up sites that also reference her primary. Seemingly, as far as the Web is concerned, Gwyn just IS Gwyn. Her ‘digital self’, the blog posts and replies she submits, the groups she belongs to, the business negotiations and online friendships she develops, her Flickr snapshots, tweets and the avatar we identify as her, are not just content created BY Gwyn. Collectively, it IS Gwyn. A grand pattern made up of many parts, ensuring she exists in the mind of others; persists in the mind of the primary, as compelling an influence on that mind as the pattern of a flower’s shape, color and scent is to the mind of a bee.
It makes little sense to ask, ’is it Gwyn or is it the groups, friends, blogs etc that entice GP back to the computer’ because those things ARE Gwyn. Furthermore, LivelyExtie questions the assumption that Gwyn is ’primarybound’ rather than ’primarycentered’.
When it comes to Lively, Google’s short-lived 3D chatroom, I seem to suffer from amnesia. I cannot remember ever logging-in. Nor, for that matter, can I recall registering an account. But, it seems I did. You see, when I tried to set up an account, I was told to pick a name other than ‘Extropia DaSilva’. That name had already been registered. Presumably, then, ‘I’ had an account with Lively and may even have logged-in and participated in whatever people did there, but my mind held no memory of having done so. Well, I am confident that my memory is fine, so that must mean somebody else had registered the name ‘Extropia DaSilva’. You could put this down to coincidence: Somebody just happened to choose the exact same name I would have chosen. Or, maybe someone wanted to keep me away from Lively, and thought that if they registered an account under my name that would somehow achieve that. Or…
Somebody was roleplaying me.
Now, it seems obvious from my perspective that this ‘Extropia DaSilva’ could not possibly be ME. After all, I had never even been to Lively. There were no memories of my time in Google’s chatroom that influenced the person I believed myself to be today. But, then I thought about what my reaction would be upon seeing a name familiar from SL elsewhere on the Web — an avatar in Lively with the name ‘Morgaine Dinova’, say, or a reply posted on a blog by ‘Prokofy Neva’. I would not assume that this was somebody else who happens to use an identical screen name, I would believe it was the same Morgie and the same Prok from SL. Wouldn’t you?