I am fascinated by the concept of an “avatar.” In techno-terms, an avatar is a small image/symbol that stands in place of the person whose face is watching the computer screen, and interacting with light, electrical pulses, and consumed power/energy. Yes, That’s right, I’m talking to you, dear reader. You may think you’re reading a blog post, but you’re really warming your face to the cold light of a computer screen, but there is a ghost in the machine. Me.
I love creating little avatars. They are mini-me’s; however, I can never quite get one that is totally right. It’s always a doppelganger:
A doppelganger, also spelled doppelgaenger, can be the ghost of a living person or any other sort of physical double that look very similar to the ghosts of the deceased. The idea of a doppelganger is sometimes similar to that of an “evil twin.” The word doppelganger comes from the German Doppelgaenger, literally meaning “double-goer.” Doppelgangers are also linked if not similar to crisis apparitions.
There are many different types of doppelganger, as the definition of the term has become somewhat loose, encompassing any sort of double. The doppelganger may be ghostly or appear in the flesh. It may be an “evil twin” unknown to the original person who causes mischief by confusing friends and relatives, or it may be the result of the original person being in two places at once through an act of magic. In some cases a person will come upon his own doppelganger who is typically engaged in some future activity. Scientists at the University Hospital in Geneva, Switzerland discovered that electrical stimulation of the brain, used to treat epilepsy, can produce the sensation of a doppelganger’s presence in the patient.
In folklore, the doppelganger is said to have no shadow or reflection, much like vampires in some traditions. Doppelgangers are often malicious or a bad omen, and they can haunt their earthly counterparts. They may also give bad advice or put thoughts in their victim’s heads. Seeing one’s own doppelganger or the doppelganger of a friend or relative is considered very bad luck, often heralding death or serious illness of the doppelganger’s original.
Well, I can’t say that my avatars are really “evil” twins. In fact, they’re not evil or twins at all. They look nothing like me. But I don’t want them to. But perhaps our comfort or lack of vigilance of protecting our identities, or in thinking we are anonymous on the Internet is why we love our miniature doppelgangers–they give voice to our “bad” side. I want mine to symbolize or project an image of what I see in my mind’s eye, my very own homunculus. (Use your context clues, kids…I’m talking about a little representation of a human being, so what do you think homunculus means?) I want my avatar to be the nice, cute, friendly side of me.
What does this have to do with mythology, legends, and folklore? Well, maybe I didn’t make it clear. We don’t believe in ghosts, spooks, or spirits anymore, really. We are too savvy for all that nonsense. But don’t fool yourself: we all want to represent ourselves to our friends, families, and acquaintances in a certain light. You make definite choices when you create your avatar, your little homunculus, your mini-me. What did you use to represent yourself in that 90 x 90 pixel icon of who you are? How can you fit yourself, your passions, your dreams, your hopes, your fears, into such a tiny space?
Don’t let technology marginalize, narrow, or choke your dreams. Be larger than life. Be your own spirit, your own creating, thinking being, and not a shadow of some computer company’s vison for who you are supposed to be. Don’t be in anyone’s shadow.
And have you ever noticed that the computer light doesn’t really cast a shadow?