Love in a Digital World

ImageCan love bloom in a virtual space? And is the concept weird?

We have all heard the stories of couples who met on dating sites, who supposedly fell in love at first email. There was a time when this was a novel idea and sometimes even made the nightly news. But now this is an every day occurrence and most singles (and even some couples) are registered and active members. All seeking love or just connection in the far corners of the globe.

People meet in the strangest of fashions, in the strangest of places. It is human nature that any gathering of people will result in an attraction of some; be it a club, a pub, a concert, or a holiday abroad. It doesn’t matter where or how, throw enough people together and nature does the rest.

With this in mind, is it so odd that, taking the online example further, people can fall in love with an avatar? A chosen visual representation of the self?

World of Warcraft is an online multiplayer game with millions of players, and one where players choose an avatar, choose their facial features, and dress in virtual clothes. They embark on adventures within this online world and meet hundreds of people a day. It can only be expected that some of them will eventually hit it off, as not only are they conversing and co-operating to complete goals, but would have similar interests and world views as evidence by simply playing the game to begin with.

Imagine if you will — alone deep inside an abandoned mine, dark and unfriendly, wrought with hostile creatures, you are seeking that long lost scroll that will provide the missing piece of the puzzle, that last clue to where the legendary bejewelled crown of a once proud king may rest. You become lost, you are injured from too many close battles. All looks grim until, what’s that? A shining light ahead. It drifts toward you, swaying form side to side as if being carried. Is it friend or foe? Salvation or damnation? Hark! It is human, and it is by coincidence that battle hardened warrior you casually waved to on the way in, who was checking his spoils from his own adventure in the mine and looked to be heading to town. Perhaps he did and returned. You can easily lose track of time in the deep places of the earth.

He approaches, offers food and healing, and a friendly voice in the dark. And as you sit together bathed in the glow of a cozy fire, you find that you both enjoy looking for long lost treasures and, gee, wasn’t that last episode of Game of Thrones really something…

So you may have heard of a World of Warcraft player quitting their job, booking flights to some far flung country, and betrothing another player without having physically met before. It is not an overly rare occurrence these days, but it still does sound a little odd, doesn’t it?

Perhaps not so odd when you consider that social media; Facebook, Twitter and so on, would be quite similar in many respects. A persons Facebook profile for example is, I would argue, not necessarily a real representation of who that person is. It is an exaggerated and entirely self designed view of who he or she is and who they wish to be. Their current profile picture is self chosen and filtered accordingly , as is the rest of the photos they choose to be associated with. Their status updates project only what they wish to be heard. It is very much an avatar just like those in World of Warcraft, yet perhaps even more deceiving as social media perpetuates the view that it is a realistic representation.

Movie stars and musicians make a living from being an avatar. Millions of people claim to love George Clooney, or a member from The Beatles. But do these millions of adoring fans know what George talks about while he does the dishes at night? It wouldn’t be filtered through a director, a stylist and seven takes before gaining approval for post. Would it be any different to what your friend John on Facebook blabs on about while hanging out the washing?

When it comes to movie stars and musicians, all you know is what they sold you. And on Facebook, all you know is what John will let on.

Looks can be deceiving. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Wisdom passed down over the ages, yet many forget this sage advice when it comes to social media and the tantalising fantasy world it offers.

That cute girl totally liked my status update. Do I talk like that off the cuff in real life? Would she have found it so cool if I just blurted out the first response that came to mind as I would have in real life? If someone says something to me, would they wait 30 seconds while I come up with a witty response?

There’s no arguing Facebook is popular and people meet and develop relationships therein, just as they do online games and dating sites. People enjoy communicating and sharing ideas, and social networking with todays online world makes this much easier than it has ever been before.

Is it a little weird that people are getting together without having met before? Sure, I think it is in many ways. But they are coming together, and they do eventually meet in person. And isn’t that the point anyway?

It is interesting to ponder where virtual personas and resulting relationships will lead. Star Trek paints a worrying technological future where the holodeck, a place where one can live and physically interact with holographic representations of people, is abused by its owners and they never want to leave. If you could create and interact with your own world, why would you want to live in the real one? You have built the ultimate existence for yourself and everyone else within in it loves you and the world literally revolves around you.

Facebook, World of Warcraft, they are much like the holodeck. You create a persona and you control the content within its walls. And once someone figures out how to virtually simulate physical contact humanity may be lost because, when it comes down to it, everyone just wants to be loved.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Love in a Digital World

  1. kvasko2

    Since it is true that everybody wants to be loved and developing simulated touch and emotional connection to one’s own fantasy world would pretty much drive humanity down a path it may not want, I find this talk by Sherry Turkle to be very relevant and well stated: http://www.ted.com/talks/sherry_turkle_alone_together.html

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