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Online Gestalt Entities

I’m about to get into a topic that might tick a few folks off.  You see, this is going to be about something that is fairly commonly done on the internet (in fact, a number of my friends do it) but that I’m not too fond of myself.  Just know that if you happen to be one of those folks who follow this practice, I’m not meaning to single you out or hurt your feelings.  I also don’t think any less of you as a person.  But yes, this IS about you.

I’m talking about taking a picture of yourself and another person and posting it as your personal avatar on an internet community.  Now, I don’t mean including a picture like that in a collection of photos – I have no problem with that.  I’m talking specifically about using a photo of you and someone else as the one identifying image that comes up on Facebook, MySpace or any number of other services when I go to look at your profile.  It’s your avatar – the one picture that’s meant to convey the essence of who you are to everyone who looks at your personal page.

I realize I don’t have a lot of room to complain, here, given that MY avatar photo is usually a close-up of my left eye.  At least in my case, though, there’s no doubt that what you’re looking at is supposed to be representative of only one person.  There are plenty of folks out there who post things just as abstract or bizarre, and I have no issue with that.  But when you’re posting a photograph for your avatar and there’s more than one person in it, things can get a bit confusing.

Me and another guy. Which is which?

Sometimes it’s you and your kid, which I can kind of understand – after all, a lot of folks are proud of their children and place them above all else in importance.  If you consider your kid part of your identity as a person, then there’s no reason not to include them.  I must admit that I find it a little bit disturbing when the photo is ONLY of your child – suggesting that your identity has been completely subsumed by your offspring – but that’s another topic.

There are folks who like to use pictures of themselves with their significant others.  Again, I completely understand if you’re proud of the fact that you’re in a relationship – especially since some of us go through what seem like entire ice ages between them.  If your name is fairly gender-neutral, though, I may have trouble telling which one of you is which.  That, of course, assumes that your significant other is of the opposite gender.  If not, then it becomes difficult to tell who’s who regardless of naming conventions.

When it’s a picture of you and your best friend (again assuming that we’re only talking about cases in which you’re both the same gender), I have no idea what to think.  If I haven’t met you before then I have no way of knowing which one is you.  This is a common problem, I think, and yet people persist in doing it.

Are you trying to remain anonymous… without remaining anonymous?  I know that the last thing I’d expect my best friend to do is use me as a decoy to throw people off of his track.  It’s kind of like a superhero moving his sidekick in front of a bullet.  (“I knew you’d come in handy one day, little chum!”)

I often hear someone say that they’ve used a picture taken with a friend because it’s the best picture they could find of themselves.  That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t solve the fundamental problem of identifying you.  That’s what an avatar is for, after all.

Are you trying to co-op a second person into your identity?  Are you symbiotes?  If it’s your best friend I’m sure they don’t necessarily have a problem with being “part of you” but I have to wonder if that diminishes their own individual identity a bit.  Are they okay with being a gestalt entity?  Does the essence of all that is you inhabit more than one body?

Maybe it does.  Maybe you and your friend are so inseparable that to know you is to know them as well and vice versa.  If that’s the case, then more power to you.  But I just have to ask one little favor: if your shared identity allows you at least the tiniest sense of self, could you possibly make it clearer which of the two people in your avatar photo is you?  Be the one standing closer to the camera.  Do something funky with Photoshop — give yourself a halo of light or glowing eyes or something.

Because ultimately, when I look at your avatar – whether it’s a picture of a giant eye, a cartoon armadillo or an ordinary photograph – I’m meant to be looking at some facet of the person you believe you are, or at least the person you’d like to be.

Otherwise, why bother?

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Music by Kevin MacLeod
  1. April 26, 2010 at 8:25 pm

    My avatar is a CGI version of a sketch I did years ago. It’s a tetsubo, an ironclub or ironstaff (it’s a Japanese word). On my YouTube Channel I have an actual photograph of myself, video captured image. So, what does my tetsubo avatar say about me?

    • May 5, 2010 at 9:51 pm

      Interesting! I linked through to your Deviantart account and had a look at it. To me it’d suggest either someone who has practiced wielding an ironstaff or someone who identifies with its qualities.

  2. April 26, 2010 at 11:59 pm

    I either use myself with the T on my face or pics of other people that I don’t know. Is that a crime?

    • May 5, 2010 at 9:55 pm

      Only in those counties where it’s a hangin’ offense. 😀

  3. April 28, 2010 at 12:29 am

    I usually use the same picture of myself everywhere, but the problem is that picture is getting old, like almost a decade old. If I decide to update it, man, I have to update it EVERYWHERE, and I’m not sure I have time for that.

    • May 5, 2010 at 9:57 pm

      I hear ya! I’d shudder at the Herculean task before me if I ever decided to switch to a new icon!

  4. April 28, 2010 at 3:56 am

    That first paragraph had me thinking you were about to tear someone a new one. All too often people hurl insults and then say “No offense” thinking that will make things all better. However, I must say that this is a well thought out, non offensive argument that actually has a point to make. Bravo!

    • May 5, 2010 at 10:00 pm

      Thanks! I was just concerned because I’ve seen people do that a LOT and wanted to make sure it was understood that I’m not attacking them. Sometimes it can be hard to stay on one side of the line between insults and constructive criticism.

  5. April 28, 2010 at 1:43 pm

    A point you did not raise is the etiquette of using someone’s pic without their permission of knowledge. I’d be really pissed if someone posted a pic of me without asking first, either as an avatar or on their FB or whatever.

    • May 5, 2010 at 10:02 pm

      Good point! I think that must happen a lot on Facebook in particular, the way some folks upload photos like madmen. 🙂

  6. May 13, 2010 at 10:13 pm

    My current Twitter avatar is of a sheep drinking ROCK STAR. My purpose in that photo was to suggest that I am a sheeping rock star…sheeping which stands for bleeping, and can then be conveyed as your curse word of choice meaning AWESOME!

    Okay, that is a complete and utter lie. I am really hiding from the Oprah Police, who know that once they find me, they can use the sheep to bring about the Oprahpocalypse. 😦

    • May 14, 2010 at 3:01 pm

      Yeah, like the old saying goes, sacrifice enough sheep and you can do anything!!

      Um… Wait, that can’t be right…

  7. Katherine
    May 14, 2010 at 4:48 am

    It’s like you’re in my head. I totally agree and complain about this a lot.

    • May 14, 2010 at 3:03 pm

      Ah, I see my telepathic efforts have not been in vain! 😀 Thanks!

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