Those that know Nadir and me personally or otherwise know that we take great pride in how we present ourselves and each other on the intertubes. My “online face” is as much a vehicle of self expression as my real one—though I admit my online face is less lumpy and gets more haircuts.
It is perhaps because of this importance that I place on my own avatars that I tend to over-project from the avatars of others. Today’s comic was inspired by a conversation I had with Story Collider’s Ben Lillie a while back. Oransky came up for some reason and I deadpanned, “Oh yeah, he’s a bear on twitter.” Of course I don’t actually think he’s a bear. But until last night, when I was double-checking his bona fides for this comic, I didn’t have any other face in my head for him.
It’s really no surprise that your online avatar influences others’ perceptions of you. In an old UConn computer behavior study (lol IM), participants were asked rate a series of avatars that ranged from people to objects with faces. What they found was pretty obvious: when faced with an avatar in online interactions, participants relied on the characteristics of the avatar for social clues about who they were interacting with.
What’s really interesting about the Nowak/Rauh study is that participants who were more familiar with online interaction relied on the avatars less and instead looked for behavioral cues. It makes sense, given that those who are used to navigating around avatars are generally aware that they aren’t really talking to a bottle of laundry detergent, rather a person who has chosen a bottle of laundry detergent as their avatar. Anybody who has played MMO’s has no doubt acclimated to the fact that men often roll female characters and vice versa.
So as much as your online avatar is important in how you present yourself in cyberspace, nobody is going to eye you suspiciously for being a company logo or a head of broccoli. These days, we’re much more informed by trends in avatar choices—or lack thereof. A more modern version of the above study would no doubt include the “default” avatars of several of the big social media services, which would set off “spammer” alarms in people’s heads.
Now it’s your turn. What avatars choices do you make? Which have you learned to avoid in others (juggalos, Albrecht Durer hands)? Drop em in the comments, and make sure to tweet them using #cyberface