Bodhisattva

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Re: Metaphors or Jargon?

One sentence, huh? That would be a mouthful — and it would take half my life to accomplish (although I can think of at least one reporter who could work it all into one tedious lede). So I hope the OP will allow me to take a few liberties — slavish devotion to rules was never my strong suit.

Here goes: New technologies allow us to inhabit multiple spheres simultaneously. We live in the physical space of our first life, where we live and breathe and eat. There’s also a second, social sphere where we interact with friends and colleagues, often assisted by technology. And now a third sphere is emerging where we interact within a new, “virtual” reality, where we are represented by alternate personas who may behave and live quite differently than we do. (At least, we hope so in the case of certain Second-Lifers.)

All of this raises fascinating metaphysical (and possibly, in the case of gaming, metafictional) questions. For when we look off the stage, beyond the proverbial fourth wall, what do we see? And perhaps more importantly, who’s seeing us?

Neal Stephenson popularized the use of the word “avatar” to describe these alternate personas, although the word had already been current in the gaming community. But it’s worth noting that it’s actually from the Sanskrit, roughly meaning “incarnation.” Reincarnation, of course, is a staple of the Buddhist and Hindu faiths, but in the latter, as a rule, only the gods can exist as multiple incarnations simultaneously. (I realize I am here inviting a correction from OP, who is better informed on this topic than I.) In any case, maybe we can expect a virtual afterlife.

Beyond the spiritual considerations, communication technology has social impact as well. They say Western pop culture, spread by technology, helped bring down the Iron Curtain. Will new ideas and new technologies also smash the blood-stained glass ceilings that still exist in our society? Can glass and celluloid ceilings even exist in a world where people are always exactly who they choose to be?

There’s always the temptation, of course, to hope that tomorrow’s technology will soon solve today’s problems; it rarely does. Remember the rosy optimism that accompanied the advent of the atomic age? Perhaps our limerent perception of technology clouds our judgment. We should have seen Three Mile Island coming from 20 miles away. We should be concerned that the unrestrained collection of personal data and metadata by private and government agencies will start us on that final slouch toward some dystopian Babylon.

We must tread carefully.

OK. That’s about the best I can do without spending all day at it. Now: If anybody can put that all together and make it rhyme, I’ll have a new hero.

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