Thursday, July 26, 2012

Transcending the Box of Personal Branding

Self Branding

I just read an interesting interview with Vince Gilligan, creator of Breaking Bad. It was right on time, as I've been mulling over my virtual life in preparation for today's conversation on Inside the Avatar Studio. He said:
It finally dawned on me that TV is about stasis, and it is about life, whereas our lives are about change. We get older with every passing moment. We change in our lives, we change our hairstyles. We change our outlooks on life, our political views sometimes. TV by design has to have a certain amount of stasis to it, because the goal in television is to have a TV show that lasts for many decades.  But it’s hard to have characters on your TV show change when you are trying to provide a safe haven for the viewers, a familiar place for the viewers to come back to week in and week out. 
Although he's writing about fictional characters, the same forces play upon those of us who avidly blog and social network. Every post we make is part of an ongoing story we are telling about ourselves. The decisions about what we include and omit in our public narratives create a divergence between the full spectrum of who we are and the image of ourselves we present to others. It also works to keep us inside the box of our story arcs and makes it harder to make significant changes in our lives. Although this process is just as true for those who represent themselves online through wallet names, it's easier to discern the variances through the virtual lives of the pseudonymous.

I was very conscious of Brand Botgirl during the first year of public life. I never disclosed my human identity in public or private. The content I posted here and on social media sites was completely constrained by the backstory of being an AI who woke up within a virtual world. It was the perfect thing to do at the time. It allowed me to immerse myself in the character, see the world through her eyes and facilitate an ongoing series of realizations that I can't imagine how I would have otherwise experienced.

Over the course of time a few factors emerged that eventually pushed me out of my little nest. The first was the development of a handful of friendships that began to feel constrained by my fixed wall of pseudonymous method acting. Surprisingly, another source of visceral pressure to change came from the character herself who was straining against the confines of the artificially truncated perspective. After months of hand-wringing, I finally gave up pseudonymity and started on a new path that has ended up with a very fuzzy border between my multiple online identities: The I that is We.

It's likely that brand and virtual identity will be one of the topics we discuss today during Inside the Avatar Studio today. It's an hour show that will begin at 3:30pm SL/PST. You can attend in Second Life or view the live stream on Metaverse Television.


Space Dinosaur Blue said...

The interesting thing about that observation is that television is only predicated on stasis because of contrivance.

American television executives, early in the development of the medium, insisted that programs remain unchanging. This happened largely when the re-run came to be. Execs said viewers should be able to watch the episode catalog in any order without becoming confused. It wasn't just about ongoing plots - they worked with show runners to create fictional worlds where nothing ever changed. Characters never evolved. Social situations stayed the same, and if it was a family sitcom that involved, for example, the theme of having children - the story pitched that one's children would grow up to be exactly like you, live the same kind of life, in the same kind of world. No future, no past - the movie Pleasantville was a rather in-depth satire of the logic construction of a 1950's sitcom world.

But interestingly, television (bear with the example a bit longer) can be used for very different purposes. In other cultures, serial fictions that are predicated almost entirely on change are sometimes common. Stories in which nothing stays the same for characters, and changing circumstances force growth and evolution. One can often find the root of adult mentality when examining how children are treated - when examining, for instance, American children's programming (live action or cartoon) one finds that historically many show creators have felt the need to insert more complex themes, but are often blocked by executives. Why? Because the kinds of events (within a story) that would teach children about growth and change, are by their inherent nature considered too scary and confusing for kids.

Likewise, in life, identity and 'branding' don't have to be one way. In some cultures, people have been conditioned to 'buy in' to the brand that represents an unchanging state. One might say that an identity brand is the first brick in the construction of a reality tunnel. And certain kinds of identity brands result in a tunnel with no branches.

It's human to want continuity. People, at some level, want things to never change, while life is about change. The human need for continuity has been the basis of entire religions. Yet the human mental map can be reprogrammed; it is not entirely inflexible. It was once said that no thought can be unthought - once you realize something, no matter how much you deny it, you cannot truly erase it. You can only learn something more that places the previous idea in a new context. In my experience, once a person learns at a deep level that the world is about change, that fundamentally affects the order of their thinking all the way up. In a certain, possibly even neurological way, they become different from someone who has the mind map that charts out an unchanging future.

Botgirl Questi said...

Thanks for your thoughtful and very interesting comment. I agree that television programs aren't always stuck in stasis. HBO and Showtime series' often take characters on unexpected journeys (and sometimes even kill them off.)

The same is true of real life. I agree with Marshall McLuhan that the impact of technology is mostly in extending and reprioritizing biologically-based human qualities and capabilities. So the impact of branding within social networks is an outgrowth of what you describe as the human need for continuity.

Bay Sweetwater said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bay Sweetwater said...

Your problem, Botgirl, is that your are a meme. From the day you did that sexy dance that hamlet broadcast to the world, you became our Botgirl. I know you want to break out of this, but for the life of me I can't see why. No branches? Aw, c'mon. Hollywood would kill for a brand like Botgirl. Synergy, girl, that's where the branches are! We love ya! Oh and btw, I can't get that *&%^& tune about Rodvik & twitter outta my head - another problem with memes. They create supersticky stuff that plague you day and night.

Botgirl Questi said...

Bay: Ha. Any notion that we control our minds can be blown to bits by a stupid little song we can't banish from our awareness.

I hope I don't come across like some reality show "actor" complaining about how hard it is dealing with their fifteen minutes of fame. (Or in my case, like Momus said, the fifteen people I"m famous to). I've been in an introspective mood recently, but am looking forward to the next Linden Lab disaster so I can do another parody song to get stuck in your head.