The many faces of Michel; a mosaic of images scattered across the web

We scatter our ‘bodies’ across the web where they gain a kind of independence as nodes for commentary, connection and appropriation by others into new networks and new configurations. These versions of ourselves become representative of uncanny ‘embodied absence’ as much as ‘disembodied presence’ (Hook 2005); our actual and immediate activity on the network at any given time is less important than the presence of our representation, our ‘ghost’.  (9)

This quote struck me as quite significant, and readily accessible as an explanation of the effects of endless social media participation, email accounts, and the ubiquitous uploading of photos. This scattering or our bodies across the web does indeed create a separate instance of ourself as a node of commentary, where flavors of ourself become sufficient for collecting conversation and activity. In fact, one might argue that these avatars are preferable to our own unified self in that they are relatively static, digital, and contained in other networks. A look at anyone’s Facebook page or a blog comments page indicates quite readily that there are times when a particular presence is not needed; activity expands continuously without an active presence. It is the avatar that signals the appropriateness of this space for conversation. It is safe, familiar, yet divorced from the greater self.

Essentially, as Sian points out, this equates to “embodied absence” as well as “disembodied presence”. These avatars are extension of presence, perhaps a distributed presence, but they proceed often with or without connection to the larger sense of being. I don’t necessarily need to feed them anything other than creating the avatar itself to stimulate it as a node of activity, one appropriated by a larger network. We are there and not there at the same time.

I also like this notion of avatar as a marker, a snapshot of self at a particular place and time. I have stumbled across old accounts with older avatars and found it remarkable how disassociated they become with my current (mainly physical) manifestation. They are either frozen in time or have a life of their own, depending on how you look at it. With hundreds of these avatars floating through digital space (and likely to increase in number), my distributed presence will certainly trigger a sixth sense or two. A familiar without being familiar, a hint of a former self, a vaguely parallel path. Uncanny.

By Michael Gallagher

My name is Michael Sean Gallagher. I am a Lecturer in Digital Education at the Centre for Research in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh. I am Co-Founder and Director of Panoply Digital, a consultancy dedicated to ICT and mobile for development (M4D); we have worked with USAID, GSMA, UN Habitat, Cambridge University and more on education and development projects. I was a researcher on the Near Futures Teaching project, a project that explores how teaching at The University of Edinburgh unfold over the coming decades, as technology, social trends, patterns of mobility, new methods and new media continue to shift what it means to be at university. Previously, I was the Research Associate on the NERC, ESRC, and AHRC Global Challenges Research Fund sponsored GCRF Research for Emergency Aftershock Forecasting (REAR) project. I was an Assistant Professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (한국외국어대학교) in Seoul, Korea. I have also completed a doctorate at University College London (formerly the independent Institute of Education, University of London) on mobile learning in the humanities in Korea.

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