Post #4: History of Avatars
Recently, I came across an article about avatars. “The History of Avatars,” written by Sean P. Egen explores the history of avatars, and points out how far back avatars actually go. The word avatar comes from the Sanskrit word avatara, meaning “descent.” Basically, an avatar is “a person’s ‘incarnation’ into the internet.” People design avatars to be the electronic version of themselves.
Before the rise of the internet, however, avatars appeared in books, games, and television. Avatars first appeared in William Gibson’s 1984 cyberpunk novel, Neuromancer. Avatars next appeared in Neal Stephenson’s 1992 novel, Snow Crash. Egen says that this novel is considered to be “the bible of avatars for the geek community.” Both Jeff Bridges’ character in the 1982 movie Tron, and the 80s TV show Max Headroom, featured early versions of avatars.
Avatars began appearing online shortly after the internet became more popular. One of the first more famous avatars, Ananova, appeared in 2000. Ananova was the “world’s first virtual newscaster,” and she made her first appearance at a London press conference. Now, avatars can be found everywhere on the internet. People use avatars for chatting, instant messaging, and even online dating. According to Egen, ESPN.com has a feature called voice of the fan,” where “fans can create an avatar to post an audiovisual response to current sports topics on message boards.” Avatars have a huge presence in gaming, and of course, in Second Life. Television has continued to use avatars, as well. During the last season of CSI: New York, one of the episodes was primarily set in Second Life, with one of the main characters creating an avatar to find a killer.
Considering the lengthy history of avatars, it will be interesting to see how they will be used in the future.