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Online Gestalt Entities

April 23, 2010 14 comments

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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