Hello Avatar! by Beth Coleman
May 16, 2012
Now that it’s summer, I can read from that precarious pile of books on my desk. First up, Hello Avatar! There is much to recommend here, but let me begin by noting Coleman’s play with design and format, a necessary and successful experimentation in the writing forms that might be better suited for scholarship on networked experience. I was pleased to note that many of the players at the MIT Press who worked with me to push publishing norms and forms for LFYT (albeit in its more uncertain digital environment) also collaborated with Coleman. Her beautiful book indicates that those great folks are still best equipped institutionally (and perhaps conceptually) to make such interventions onto books and paper—from Coleman’s use of color-coding, to font, to writing styles—and I say this not as a complaint, but as a sign-post marking how far the field of “digital publishing” (about digital culture) and its most staunch supporters can go in 2012.
Given our many points of convergence, and that this is a blog-post and not a “real” review, I will merely point out a few cherished ideas from Coleman’s book and how they might relate to my ongoing concerns, often discussed here. The first is her use of the term X-reality to mark that place, experience, modality of being that I’m always tripping over when I try to describe the bleed and continuum of on/offline experience. Better yet are her picture-perfect snapshots of the mundane yet elegant ways we encounter X-reality daily.
Her discussion of the vividly actual, neither virtual nor real, and never inauthentic, to better understand X-reality also presses up nicely against my ongoing interest in the fake. In her discussion of the “uncanny valley” of felt virtual inauthenticity, I see my own considerations of the particular power of the productive fake-documentary that is and is undone in one view. The uncanny knowing of a thing and its reverse, a form and its fake, can liberate critique and self-knowing. However, needless to say, my more current understanding of this mode of seeing and knowing as being dominant and ubiquitous online in the ways that we see and show and know, and therefore defanged of its most radical possibilities for unmaking and rethinking, raises interesting questions for Coleman’s ever more visible body of study (ha) the Avatar.
Finally, her careful consideration of both the changing nature of agency and presence, given her understanding that technology extends our capabilities of communication, community and collaboration, thereby pressing us to both extreme and extended behavior, dovetails neatly with my newest work concerned with the what and how of these lived possibilities: can or should we bring previous norms of being and practice, learned from decades of organizing and thinking within the politics of social justice, to the places and ways that we are now human?