Virtual Life, “Real” Life

Interesting posts by both Kim Dot Dammit and, in response, Jodi, on how blogging relates to “real life.” The difference between the two is somewhat illusory. Even before blogs and the Net allowed for all sorts of virtual extensions, it was already the case that we aren’t always the same person in every situation and to everyone. I am not quite the same person to my wife, to my mother, to my kids, to my students, to my close friends, etc.; not to even mention my own sense of “self” or mental privacy. There are always degrees of multiplicity and difference. We are always being performative to some extent, though at times we are much more aware of doing so than at other times; and yet, all these performances are who we “really are.” We can’t separate them off from our “true selves”, even if sometimes we delude ourselves that we can. It is not an existential problem, but only one for certain (e.g. Cartesian) highly essentialized and reified notions of what it means to be a “self.”

Of course, the problem gets exacerbated to the extent that part of one’s life is “public”; as it inevitably is for me, for instance, both because of my job (as a university professor), and because I write this blog. The nature of the Net as a medium gives the illusion of being more distant than is the case with other forms of interaction. This, presumably, is why Kim was surprised to realize, after all, “that the distance component is very illusionary and that cyber words and actions can have as much impact as an actual physical presence.”

I think I learned this lesson when I was on LambdaMOO in the early/mid 1990s. It was a very weird period for me, which started when my first marriage broke up. On the rebound, and also exalted (if that is the right word) by the semi-anonymity and sense of freedom that the MOO offered, I got involved very quickly in some very intense and (it ultimately turned out) seriously misguided virtual relationships, both sexual and not, some of which remained virtual (and quite strange and difficult), and others of which crossed over into “real life” with calamitous consequences. All of this only ended when I met Jacalyn on the MOO, and then in person, in the flesh — and we are together to this day.

I think that I learned from all this that my “freedom” to reinvent myself, which seemed nearly infinite in the virtual world that was LambdaMOO, was in fact much more constricted than I realized, because my MOO persona could not be separated as much as I thought it could from “myself,” my physical body and my habits, neuroses, etc. Which doesn’t mean it was all for nothing — I did become something of a different person as a result of spending that time in LambdaMOO — but that all of these transformations, all of these performative explorations, all of these experiences of “growth” (in this case, I use the scare quotes because I don’t want to sound New Agey; but I guess that “growth” is not a word that I can entirely disavow) are still finite, relative, and limited. Or, in other words, it is not so much that they are still related to, or aspects of, who I am — but, more strongly, they are who I am. They are my history as well as the mutations in the course of that history.

4 Responses to “Virtual Life, “Real” Life”

  1. Dejan says:

    Now how does one avoid using New Agique words and not becoming New Agique oneself – I wonder. As soon as I say a thing like DUDE I immediately transform into the turtle from FINDING NEMO. As soon as I consider performativity and reinvention, Madonna jumps into the frame with her overly ripe butt in a youthful pink gym suit. As soon as the next Darren Aronofsky film posterizes the Kabbalistic TREE OF LIFE, I have to realize to what extent it’s all New Agique. Why even the lighting of Bjork’s videos gets me to hum ”The Age of Aquarius” and have all sorts of visions involving bisexual group sex.

    By the same token if we want to avoid New Agique I would say the virtual identities are something like Cola Light or Paris Hilton. And this could be fun on dating sites were it not for a horde of fuckers who choose to make themselves look and sound much, much better than they REALLY are!

  2. http://www.boingboing.net/2006/12/12/clay_shirky_on_secon.html

    I’m sure you caught this BB post about Second Life and LambdaMOO.

    … but concerning blogging, I think the great paper has yet to be written on internet emotionality, but I think it must begin with Justin Hall’s darknight video and the comments page therein.

    http://www.links.net/daze/05/01/14/dark_night_flick.html
    http://www.links.net/daze/05/01/14/dark_night_flick-comments.html

    Including some choice comments from Doug Rushkoff, etc.

    What can we say about blogging when the person who can legitimately claim to have done it first comes away realising it makes a person mean? I guess there’s the Richard Rorty on Irony, Solidarity and Contingency but I wrote a paper on Hall’s event and the emotion of writing-blogging through Derrida-Artaud’s concept of hieroglyphic breath; writing that demanded emotional feedback.

  3. May says:

    I agree about the fact that the different facets of our personality and the different ways we relate to people continue to be exist in our virtual relationship, only, on the internet, we are allowed to get rid of the expectations that others place on us and that we do not recognize as being part of our self.

  4. [...] they normally wouldn’t push in the real world. I’ve read stories about mooers having relationships on lambdamo even some getting married and I find that [...]

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