Representing ourselves and creating avatars

By Ross Dawson on March 31, 2006 | Permalink

A teenage girl’s video clip on YouTube about her breakup with her boyfriend has been viewed over 155,000 times in the last five days, primarily because she was playing with features on Logitech web cameras that allow her to change her appearance. The features available on the cameras include adding glasses to a person’s face, changing their eyes, or an entire range of complete characters, such as an alien, gingerbread man, or bulldog. The software tracks movements in the person’s face to keep the modifications aligned with their image. While the features are fairly basic, they still look good, are included with a $100 web camera, and the quality will quickly improve.
An avatar (from the Sanskrit, originally meaning a manifestation of a deity on earth) is a person’s representation in a virtual environment. Any multi-player game involves avatars that players use to play their roles. The Logitech features are an important step to blurring the boundaries between video calling, and taking on a completely different visual representation online. This starts to answer the question of how we will deal with video calls when we don’t always look our best. We are on the verge of being able to look perfectly coiffed and groomed in a video call, irrespective of how we look in real life. Just as we can get a “voice lift” to surgically make us sound younger, we can modulate our digital voices too. Starting from around now, we cannot know if the image we are seeing, even in a live video call, is actually showing a person, or a digitally manipulated image of them. So how do YOU want to look and sound?

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