The third dimension of a language apparatus (after technology and institutional practices) is identity formation, individual and collective. The term covering the site of new identity experience in electracy is avatar. “Avatar” is from Sanskrit (avatara) originally ava, down + tarati, he crosses over.


A convenient summary of the current status of the term is by Aaron Britt, in the New York Times Magazine.

The original usage referred to the incarnation or human appearance of a deity, particularly Vishnu, in Hindu mythology. The term was adapted to cyberspace to name one’s online persona. This usage has come to include every aspect of one’s online representation, from the icon on a blog, or an email signature to the figure one plays in Second Life. “Avatar,” then, is a practical point of entry for theorizing the emergence of the new identity experience of electracy, that is supplementing and displacing “selfhood,” the identity formation of literacy (on origins of “self” see the work of Eric Havelock).

Playing one’s avatar is to electracy what writing an essay is to literacy. The point addressed by the theory is that an avatar is not merely the appearance of one’s representation, since through interactivity and even telepresence, I am t/here with my image. What is it to be/have an image? This question is one of the threads developed in this blog.

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