We’ve all seen the avatars people place as digital representations of themselves online right? I’m guessing you have because you’re taking the time to read my blog post so you’re just the kind of person that notices these things.
I think I described a reason for them just then, they serve the purpose of presenting a visual representation of ourselves online. Often the images people use are abstract and not clear depictions of how the person appears in real life. The reasons are not just to do with vanity. I think if you take another popular artistic form - tattoos - you’ll see that avatars are similarly used to portray person meanings.
These images are often a subtle code for meanings that the person does not necessarily want to speak out loud. They are meanings that the person is comfortable with, but that they don’t necessarily feel the need to explain to everyone they meet. In the early days the Web was considered to be an anonymous space where free expression ruled and accountability did not exist, but the Web has evolved and anonymity is no longer guaranteed. We’ve seen that people occasionally get prosecuted for downloading copyrighted content, so obviously there are powers out there that have the ability to monitor what we do online.
Avatars then are a stylized concession to the fact that we are no longer invisible, so we might as well start projecting an image that we approve of and are comfortable with. The comfort factor is one aspect that speaks to how clearly the image represents the person in reality. An accurate photo shows that the person wants to project a real open presence, while a stylised photo or more symbolic image suggests either a need to reserve some privacy or an interest in presenting other meanings, much like a totem.
Avatars add to a presence by presenting to a visitor either a human face that they can more easily relate to, or a mystery element that suggests depths that add intrigue to the more obvious content presented on the pages. Attached is an avatar I use a lot. I’m standing on a salt flat and because it is such an unreal landscape, stark and disconnected from normal points of reference, I’ve made the image light and abstract because I think it suits the mirage like atmosphere of the place.
In short, avatars add a bit of fun. What avatar image do you think is right for you?