Proust in Second Life

proustProust would have been all over Second Life. This is a man who could, and did, go on for three pages about talking to his grandmother on the telephone , which was new at the time. He gives detailed consideration to the psychic aspects of this dramatic change in technology. He notes, for instance, how his perception of his beloved grandmother changed at the moment that he heard her disembodied voice. We are so used to this phenomenon, we don’t even think about it, but Proust realizes that for the first time in human history, with the invention of the telephone, it is possible to have a voice without a body.  Can you imagine the torrent of words he’d have to say about our world of avatar identity? The mind reels.

It is a lot of work managing your identity. Especially when they multiply on you. Whoever ‘you’ is. The fact is that even the flesh and blood version has a serious problem with identity that philosophers have struggled with for millennia. Who is the ‘you’ which is not your mind or your body? Who are all the voices within each human being who sequentially take the wheel and drive all the others offstage? And then come these digital versions.

A friend of mine reminds me that all science fiction must be an extrapolation of our past and present. We cannot create from nothing. The base clay of our avatar is not value-free. Everything in SL is a projection of the human mind and has a context, history and aesthetic. I guess that’s what makes it infinitely interesting, even when painful or ugly.  And this is why if Proust were alive today, he’d be living in Second Life.


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