14 November 2012
Aldous Huxley showed amazing prescience when he wrote about a brave new world in 1931. He predicted changes in reproductive technology and sleep programming but even he could not have imagined the transformative power of the human experience that the internet would exert. Not only is communication and information revolutionised but so can people live out entire lives in the virtual space of the online world. In games and social forums you can create an avatar, or online persona, that may or not be related to who you really are (if the physical you can be considered to be the “real” you) and live out most aspects of a life. As scary as this might seem to you, new research has shown that this created “self” might do you some good.
In the new study researchers examined hundreds of participants in a virtual reality community called “Second Life”. The subjects answered questionnaires about their engagement with their own avatar and the relationships that their avatar created online. They were also surveyed as to their “offline” health, appearance and emotional wellbeing.
For the research a concept dubbed “self-presence” was used to denote how strongly a user experienced their avatar as an extension of themselves.
You might think that a high degree of self-presence, or identifying with the avatar that you have created, might indicate a degree of unhappiness with the self and consequent problems but the reverse is true.
It emerged that people with a strong sense of self-presence found that the experiences of their avatar improved how they felt about themselves. There was also no evidence of negative influence from a high degree of self-presence.
The researchers say that this means that it could be possible to harness the power of the virtual you to help you lose weight, improve your overall health, and boost your wellbeing.
In the end it all comes down to how you use the online space and how you relate to your avatar. This should be calming to those watching the burgeoning of the online world with a degree of disquiet. In the end the internet is another tool and is neither inherently good nor bad. As with all else it comes down to the user which reinforces the fact that the “real” you is more important than ever.