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What you see is what you get. I presume

01/06/2012. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

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One of the books I was reviewing this month, ĎThe Self Illusioní by Bruce Hood, made a telling mark on me as to how people craft fictional aliases on-line for themselves. Thinking about it and outside of criminal activity, you canít help but categorise as to why and how they do this rather than just being yourself. If youíve been there and written the book, then treat this as a fresh analysis.

Hello everyone

Oddly, I might create characters for the written page but the me you see here is only me and will always be me because anything else would always be ghosts aspects or fiction of me. Over the editorials, you should have seen a depth of interest and hopefully, knowledge. Accept no substitutes. For long term readers of this column, you should be able to immediately recognise who is writing to you. To create a persona to do that, let alone continue it at depth for prolonged periods tends to become difficult because sooner or later, youíll do something that will reveal something too revealing or you will want to reveal the real you to someone. Well, unless youíre the graphics artist Banksy but he doesnít write.

For those who do operate under a different persona, one could surmise that an alternative identity can be used to conceal your physical identity from among other things like digital bullying, although that being the case, it kind of comes over as counter-productive when you use your own identity on the social network sites or how else do you connect to other people you know? I mean, why would they want to talk to a stranger who wants to be a Ďfriendí and who knows so much about you? Iím shrugging my shoulders here, cos there are people on social chat-sites who do just that anyway. Appearances are only skin or digital deep after all. You canít really conceal your own personality completely. There are some things that have to be consistent throughout or at least arenít likely to change under questioning. People donít have to know you to express a dislike or even a liking for some aspect of you neither. [For the record, if you want to contact me, use my email address below. Iím always accessible that way. Iím not a total isolationist or anti-social, just a tad unsocial. In the real world, I give hermits a bad name.]

For virtual reality websites where there is a visual avatar, it gives an opportunity to create the kind of persona and even appearance that you wish you were in real life. You can literally re-build yourself to that concept. I was mildly curious about ĎSecond Lifeí and looking at the choice of avatars in its introduction, there was a lack of typical normal human physical shapes although it professed there would be a choice if I went to their island. Whether you could pick something that resembled you for when you went through the door is largely irrelevant as from the start youíre already being steered towards a leaner ideal shape, even if you choose a vampire, robot or humanoid rabbit, and if others are doing the same, that old herd instinct takes over so you donít want to frighten the horses and look like something that matches other peopleís expectations. Well, not too much. When it comes to on-line personality, I doubt if anyone wants to portray themselves as over-weight or ugly via an avatar when there are better options available and as itís a game, why not go along with it? Thereís already enough stigmatism associated with that in the western hemisphere and the whole point of joining such sites is to communicate so why not look your best? When it comes to personality, I doubt if being nasty works particularly well because itís not a good means for communication, so you present your best face (sic) so to speak. Mind you, what is your Ďbestí or Ďgoodí side might not be seen by that way as others but then it enters a gray area because as others have also done the same, then itís all a fiction and so underneath it all you treat all things as a fiction. That is until you realise that for many, fiction is real. Look at the followers of soap-operas. They know more about their TV programmes people than the people who live on their own street and sometimes canít distinguish from reality when caught up in the plot-lines. Arenít these same people or those with similar characteristics going to take things on face value with the Internet avatars? It is, after all, a digital dog eat digital dog world out there and there will always be someone willing to take advantage of that sort of conditioning.

If anything the digital look has to be seen as an improvement because it doesnít have to contain any normal habits like eating or going to the toilet, let alone have normal sleeping hours other than when youíre off-line. With everyone else in the same boat so to speak, it sort of gives an equality that you wouldnít have in the real world. Itís only the later actions that you do digitally that would distinguish you from other people and as someone once pointed out, politeness costs nothing. Typing a reply gives you more time to say something nice or even witty than you would verbally. Then again, this works favourably for the shy and possibly socially inept, let alone slow typists, to gain confidence that they might not have in real life. There are pros and cons for this but ultimately it creates an ideal world that the real one can never match, let alone emulate. Well, unless you live in the Matrix and weíve all seen the results of that.

Considering the state of the world, finding an idealised place to live digitally must seem a godsend, although people do tend to come down with a bump when the real world hits home as it has in the past couple years. Reading about a bit of a numbers drop-off in the past year with ĎSecond Lifeí, probably reflects that. Although it does make me wonder if thatís more a reflection of our own character and personalities coming to the fore. Like with all trends, people might want to jump back into real reality because they canít keep avoiding it forever. A fantasy persona is all right up to a point but doesnít pay anything but digital money. When it comes down to it, many humans are pragmatic when reality hits them in the face than being purely idealistic.

Before the Internet, if people wanted to get away from reality, then they would read a book instead and digest chapters in small amounts or even visit the cinema. After the Internet, itís said that the number of book readers has diminished, although those wanting to combine digital with reading through e-books seems to show that might not be the case. Whether that is because weíre getting more accurate figures these days or never had a true reflection of numbers is hard to say. I tend to suspect the latter because statistics can be manipulated to reflect whatever trend you want to sell. In the meantime, there is always a percentage of any population that buys a book for show than to read let alone those who try to read but donít complete. Ergo, not enough questions are asked about buying books and reading habits to complete the picture accurately.

With our genre interest, we should know the dangers of crossing reality and fantasy but, like watching grass grow, it is also possible to get caught in the rush and not realising how embracing any activity can become. Then again, Science Fiction has always been the genre to show the dangers of any activity.

Our own world might not be perfect but we are capable of making a difference to it and collectively can when we make such an effort. In that respect, maybe the lessons that are learnt from the digital world can be applied to the real world. Just donít use weapons and remember people can be hurt in any format. Being true to your real self on-line as well as in reality will make for a stronger all-round persona. Accept no substitutes. Be true to yourself.

Thank you, take care, good night and let the real you stand up to be counted. Statistically, you know it makes sense.

Geoff Willmetts

Ad break: Without naming any product, donít you find it worrying when the use of any device is described as giving Ďvirtually no painí then there must be some pain and the manufacturer is edging its bets?

A Zen thought:Life needs to be physical if it is to engage all parts of the intellect.

NB: Anyone interested in reviewing books for me, especially fantasy and military SF, as we have a surfeit of books, and lives in the UK should contact me through Iím always recruiting and details are through a link on the top of the SFC main page and in the SFC Forum for this and articles and stories as well.

If youíve on a budget, a book for a review is a good bargain and I can teach the nervous how to do it by seeing what you do when you present a sample. Itís a good deal. We get books in a variety of formats these days so all things are possible to those with the knack for putting words into sentences.

PPS Donít forget to join on in the new SFCrowsnest Forum. Join up and express your thoughts in leaving typed words that make sentences. Iíve noticed many of you are joining up but the Forum isnít supposed to be a passive site. Remember the editorial above. Iím not advocating a vow of silence. Well, unless youíre a monk but I doubt if that precludes typing. Are you going to be a lurker or a typer??!! Remember the editorial above, passivity is for sheep not a sentient species. The number of hits shown on the Forum arenít daily, but for every ten minutes! Write something and others will respond if you have something to say. Equally, you could just be a guest and look around, especially as we release a lot of news that way, but the more the merrier when you have something to say.
We havenít been spammed since inception with this new version now so you should feel safe to come and communicate on anything Science Fiction. Iím dying to see you people fill in the survey polls. They wonít bite yíknow and are active when you sign in and you must be dying to find out why I consider Element Lad the most powerful Legionnaire. Iím still pondering on any differences with the current changes in the DC Universe will have on that idea.

Speaking of the Forum, if you want up-to-date info of book signings, news and such, have a peak. You donít have to sign up to have a look as to when these things are happening and Iíve yet to hear of a flash crowd turning up for such things but thereís always the first time. Weíre not libel for that if you do such a thing, just to keep my boss happy.

Donít forget, Iím always on the lookout for new reviewers as well as articles, interviews and stories and after some recent changes, letís see if the full details about that appears below. If they donít then look in the new Forum or on the link line at the top of the main page. For potential book reviewers in the UK, itís a good way to keep up your reading habit and show you can write. There are detail links scattered over the website and on the forum. If you donít think youíre up to scratch, youíll discover why Iím the dutch uncle.

Another real Zen thought but this time for potential writers: If you can express an opinion independently of others and arenít likely to bend to the masses then you might show potential as a writer.

Zen for those who are scared by all the instructions below: Many of the instructions are things you should be doing automatically if youíre developing your writing skills. If you do them already then focus on the ones that you donít get right. They are there to help you as much as me to get the best writing from you. If you think youíre 80% there then Iíll help you get the final 20%. Trust me, Iím an editor and I can get things right.

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