Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Spectatorship, Immersion and Emergence: Part Two

Back in May, I introduced the term "Emergents" as a label for virtual personalities who travel outside their world of origin through online vehicles such as Twitter, Flickr and Facebook. What I missed (as you can see in the associated graphic) was the psychological dimension.

This blind spot contributed to the disconnection some readers noticed within my recent AIR-based relationship theory:
"the contradictions in the 'AIR' theory doesn't really work out unless you can explain persistent relations through periods of non-immersion for starters." Digado
After my latest round of inquiry, I believe that what persists are virtual identities independent of the immersive environment except for associated memories, thoughts and emotions. This became apparent as I went through a VizThink exercise over the weekend that facilitated the depiction of the SIm-E process (sorry, I love acronyms) I posted yesterday:
  1. Spectatorship: New users initially experience a virtual world as if they are on the outside looking in. Without the feeling of being inside the world, there's not much point in spending a lot of time there, unless it's related to a job or there's some other compelling motivation to persevere.
  2. Immersion: Most newbies seem to need a dozen or more hours inworld before they cross the border into the visceral experience of being inside a virtual world. Although the term immersion encompasses multiple dimensions across a spectrum of intensity, many people describe their initial experience as a sudden shift of perception, as if a switch was turned on.
  3. Emergence: It is possible to have a very full experience of immersion without developing a unique virtual personality. That said, it seems that most active Second Life residents I've encountered describe some sense of a virtual identity that is psychologically individuated from their human self. For instance, one avatar with very close and emotionally intense inworld ties said that her human identity was ambivalent about her online relationships. So the identity that writes a loving blog post to her online loved ones is not the human, but the virtual. These identities don't merely persist outside of the virtual world on the web, but persist within consciousness. This brings up all kinds of questions about human personality and identity.
I'll continue this thread in the next post.

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