metaverse(s) and identity

So this is me freaking out somewhat because I realized halfway through the weekend that I forgot to do my post about Snow Crash...eeeeek. Let's see what can be done.

When one enters the Metaverse, an "avatar" or virtual clone of oneself is created and used for interaction. We all seemed to agree in class that there are points in the book in which it's hard to tell whether Hiro is in the "real world" or the Metaverse; this creates an interesting problem for the whole great American ideal of the secure individual self that no one else can touch. Obviously the Metaverse allows for some distinctive bending of the laws of the natural world; basic actions such as walking, running, talking with others can be executed purely through the power of the mind. One can almost be completely detached from one's "self" in the Metaverse and yet still be controlling them. Only fighting requires total immersion into one's virtual self. Where, then, do we draw the line between characteristics that cannot be changed (race, perhaps) and constructed aspects of the self? Or can any human characteristic be changed, i.e. mind over matter?

I think it's possible that this book is suggesting a world in which identity is completely a personal and social construct...and that we are either already in that world without realizing it, or moving towards that world. Hiro's multifaceted racial identity (part black, part Asian by way of...etc.) certainly suggests a purposeful breakdown of racism and a growing inability to pigeonhole anyone based on their appearance or skin color. We talked some in class about the virtual reality game Second Life (which I will admit to having an account on at one point, though I split once I realized actual money was involved) which is similar in theory to the Metaverse, and how its "artificiality" has been positive in some ways, creating an environment in which people of all colors and preferences are free to express themselves.

However, in an indirect study of the Metaverse, I found myself thinking about something I actually noticed while I was still playing Second Life...often people of non-white races (black, Asian, Indian, etc.) would make their avatars visibly white and then brag about how "white" they were. They blurred the lines, by proudly declaring their actual ethnicity in their avatar's profile, even if the avatar itself was blonde, pale and very "Aryan" looking. This bothered me a bit. In an odd way, the ability to construct oneself was reinforcing racism and other problems of our society, such as homophobia and religious extremism; but why? Is it because we don't know how to operate any other way? Does commerce and capitalism require this kind of racial hierarchy? One of my favorite things about sci fi in general is how it pushes people to imagine their world differently and put down their assumptions...so I would hope that we're not stuck regardless.

I suppose the main question of the Metaverse is whether we have the same amount of freedom or less freedom than Hiro when it comes to re-creating ourselves; in a virtual reality game we seem to have the same amount, but the problems that we struggle with in the real world end up being re-created. In the real world, it is not recommended to change one's skin color although it is possible; but, we are in the process of redefining race, and the population of multiracial/multicultural people is expanding. Could our identity be just as malleable in the real world as it is virtually?