Shaowen Bardzell (my illustrious collaborator and spouse) and I recently wrote an article entitled, “Intimate Interactions: Online Representation and Software of the Self,” which has just been published in Interactions magazine.
In it, we argue that online representations do not always represent our offline selves, and it is a mistake to think they should always do so. A major case in point is online social spaces, from Twitter to Facebook to Second Life, where online representations are more accurately seen as symbolically dense multimedia performances than “true” representations of one’s “true” (offline) self.
These dynamics are particularly visible in intimate activity online (and we mean much more than cybering by that), which we explore and illustrate in the article. Because people are finding and cultivating intimacy online, and because it seems to be genuine, emotionally true, and also symbolically connected to real world culture, we also argue that avatars are not merely inside virtual worlds but rather that they are another part of our “real” selves. Certainly, our online friends are not imaginary, and if one follows the logic of that forward, it suggests that much of what happens online is no more imaginary than participation in any other part of life (school, weddings, parties, the workplace, etc.).