Image above is one of the avatars I created on Second Life.
I often open my Twitter feed as I drink my morning coffee and it was no different on this first day of 2013. Maybe because it is the first day of a New Year and a holiday, but something had changed; the words I encountered today were happily unfamiliar. I follow a wide range of people and organizations. Some tweet to educate, some to sell and some merely to express or play. But this morning, it was clear there had been an unusual shift in the writing life of those I follow. Many tweets were unusually poetic and abstract, creating floating poems that drifted past my eyes. Others described strange details in their worlds; the mundane objects or observations that we usually keep to ourselves.
Writers and musicians often describe how fans can misinterpret their work. The lyrics of a song may sound like a narration of the singer’s life experience. For the listener, this may make them think they are getting a rare glimpse into the artist’s life. But as many tell us, songs and stories are often “portraits”, creations of fiction, which express a larger idea. They may have been inspired by real life, but they are hybrids, and not documentaries.
In life online, whether it be Facebook or Twitter, a blog post or comment, or an email in our inbox, this same portraiture exists. It may be intentional, as it was for the song writer, or it may be a momentary expression, whose motive is unknown to the writer. It may be nefarious, created by someone who wishes to engage us, enrage us, or entrap us, (the 3 “e’s”). Or it may be to allow us to communicate a more complex meaning, without compromising our privacy.
As online life progresses, participants become much more savvy about the richness of writing life.
Well known personalities such as actors or political leaders, or even the Pope, have “verified accounts” on Twitter. This is supposed to mean on some level, that the messages they post are truly associated with their real life. We all know it does not necessarily mean they wrote them. Many of them have teams of specialists who construct the tweets carefully, and then send them out with the intent of benefitting the named or maintaining their fan base.
Yet even with a verified account, the 140 characters come to us in guise. Some of us suspend our disbelief long enough to believe the communication came directly from the person named. But if pressed we would say, we know this is not likely and the words flow on and by.
The writers I follow take on this use of word-space directly. Snippets of scenes in “lives” are disseminated and doled out, which if captured, like fairy dust, create a whole story. These seem to be experiments, ideas that are not yet completely formulated, which come out before the larger work; a thinking out loud; a glimpse into a sketchy world, where characters are still stick figures, with arrows pointing out direction.
We often hear of the horrors of sharing our life online in the mainstream media. How it can ruin a career or make us a target of a misguided investigation. But I have to think in this New Year, how short sighted these warnings may be, beyond the truths they hold. We are uniquely adaptive creatures. And being so as I have noticed today, I doubt we will take this new word-space of our online life as anything more or less, than a collection of portraits, created by an ever widening series of Avatars, (to the degree of n) to tell us a more complex tale.