In a digitally-driven world, “texting” has replaced “talking” much as “role playing” has replaced “playing”. Much of the domain of human interaction, such as characterized by long-valued, perhaps sappy notions like “the milk of human kindness” have been offloaded (not to say ceded) to the displaced electron inside of a silicon chip.
In August 2014, an indoor arena in Seattle was packed with folks watching a competitive event where humans were interacting—but there’s a catch. Ten thousand paying spectators watched as “players” battled avatar-to-avatar in video games. Nowhere did an actual human take an actual risk on the field—instead, the stars are busy at their keyboards firing “missiles” or swinging “halberds” at a virtual enemy in a beautifully rendered fantasy-land.
Perhaps we had been looking for this escape all along. There’s an old school of thought that suggests we remain, at our core, relatively unconvinced that anyone else is real in the sense that we ourselves are real. Now we are free to create a separate persona in a virtual space—a fairly complete personage (often called an “avatar”)—that we can deploy to interact with other personae; that we can utilize as a layer of protection. Hiding behind our avatar, there is no apparent risk (unless your avatar says something demonstrably wrong-headed and it becomes a meme).
As digital personages, we can have relationships and then, with one click, end them if we don’t want them. We can stop worrying about how we “look” or even how we “smell”. We can craft a doppelganger, a two-dimensional ‘bot that performs as “us” at our will.
Perhaps this is the escape from the “prison-of-the-self” we have always wanted.
But at some point, at least for now, you will have to turn off the screen or take off your goggles. And then, who is there with you? And does that matter any more?