Sci-Fi has anticipated, sometimes quite accurately, lots of Internet innovations. Snow Crash, Stevenson’s Cyberpunk masterpiece, predicted Google Maps, the existence of ultraconnected-to-the-Internet people (called gargoyles)… and avatars.
The origin of this word can be found in Hinduism: an avatar is a projection of a God on Earth, what Frau-Meigs calls ‘an outil représentationnel’, a representational tool to take part in a parallel world.
Sci-Fi is full of virtual reality identity/avatar constructions to represent the owner in a parallel world that becomes as real as the original (James Cameron’s Avatar, The Matrix trilogy or the dystopian Surrogates Comic by Venditti and Weldele). I doubt the Web will provide us with such a visual – and picturesque – substitution of people for avatars in personal interactions…
…but it is triggering something more radical. We don’t participate or build relationships on the Internet over a fictional unique character, but using one of the multiple selves – avatars – we generate with each interaction. And, don’t you think our e-identity (irrevocably a part of our identity) is in fact the sum of our avatars’ actions?
In this case Avatar, The Matrix and Surrogates are built upon one-way trip identities. Blue, or with superpowers, those avatars merely replace the owner’s existence in those fictional worlds. Reality is less picturesque, less blue, but deeper. Identity is continuously making two-way trips: offline identity governs online projections and online interactions feed the offline identity definition process.
Consequently identity is determined by e-interactions. Our ontology also contains our online participation.