Friday, July 4, 2008

Third Life, Media Life

Last night, at the same time as my class met in Second Life, my family was featured on a local TV show, Chronicle. The show was about twins and multiples and they spent about four hours shooting us, so I figured that would add up to about a minute of air time, especially after the producer told me that the following day she was shooting a mother with TWO sets of twins, which surely makes better television than my one set. Anyway, I e-mailed my teacher that I would be late, figuring I would watch with everyone and then catch up. I saw that we would be taking a field trip to a scripting tutorial sim and spent some time in it ahead of time.

But as airtime approached, it suddenly (and belatedly) occurred to me that maybe the kids shouldn't watch the show live. What if there were inappropriate content? So we waited 12 minutes into the half hour to give ourselves some room and then started watching on the DVR in chase play mode, and so I teleported to class, a little late, but just as Nettrice typed, "Lori was on tv." I responded, "I might be on right now," and that's when it hit me: how many lives was I leading right then? First life/real life, already split by being at home and also online; "second life" of L1Aura Loire, present in "body" at Boga Island, although mostly distracted; and then a third existence, on tv, a persona and image as yet unrevealed to me, yet already broadcast.

Nettrice sent the class off on the field trip exercise and must have had a tivo of her own, because she typed that she had seen me on tv. A very interesting confluence of presence and absence, simultaneity and sequence: my attention shifted abruptly from my computer screen back to our television screen and we watched, rewound, watched ourselves again (slightly more than 1 minute, but I still have some time coming to get to my allotted 15 minutes of fame). Certainly television watching is different when you know you are recording it, when you know it is not just a fleeting moment of something live, that it leaves a trace, that what it means for a medium to be time-based is different.

What does it mean to my three year-old twins to be on television? They are used to seeing video of themselves on the computer in a way that I certainly was not growing up. It is a shift not unlike the first generation to have photographs of themselves when previously there were only paintings and drawings, except those first daguerrotypes were purposeful and time-consuming, and today's digital images are ubiquitous and instantaneous. It makes me think of the short story "Snow" by John Crowley, in which there is a device called a wasp that can record thousands of hours of audio and video of a person's life to be seen by their loved one's after they die, but the "memories" are not archived in a way that can be accessed deliberately, only randomly, and it seems that the moments that play for the narrator are increasingly ones of snow. One photograph can prompt a memory, sometimes becomes the memory, replacing it, rewriting it with the image at its center, but what about a dozen, hundreds, thousands? Video? My twins' three years are pretty well-documented, and they love to see themselves. How does that effect their sense of self, literally, their self images? And as avatars become one of the ways we see ourselves represented visually, how will they contribute to our changing sense of self?

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