by Andrew Harvey






Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines ‘avatar’ as follows: av.a.tar n [Skt avatara descent, fr. avatarati he descends, fr. ava- away + tarati he crosses over--more at ukase, through] (1784):

1: the incarnation of a Hindu deity (as Vishnu)
2: a: an incarnation in human form
b: an embodiment (as of a concept or philosophy) often in a person
3: a variant phase or version of a continuing basic entity

Within the cyber-community, however, avatars more generally refer to the virtual bodies used by people while in cyberspace.

Neal Stephenson is widely credited with first using the term in his 1993 book “Snow Crash” to refer to an image or 3D figure that represents a person in cyberspace. However, as Stephenson himself says in the Bantam paperback edition, “after the first publication of Snow Crash I learned that the term ‘avatar’ has actually been in use for a number of years as part of a virtual reality system called Habitat, developed by F. Randall Farmer and Chip Morningstar.”

Avatars can be chosen to reflect the identity that the person wishes to adopt. As Judith S. Donath explains, “identity plays a key role in virtual communities. In the physical world there is an inherent unity to the self, for the body provides a compelling and convenient definition of identity. The virtual world is different ... it is composed of information rather than matter ... one can have, some claim, as many electronic personas as one has time and energy to create.”

In cyberspace (or in Stephenson’s Metaverse) you can make your avatar look like anything you want. If you're ugly, you can make your avatar beautiful. If you've just gotten out of bed, your avatar can be wearing beautiful clothes and professionally applied makeup. You can look like a gorilla or a dragon …

Atmosphere from Adobe is the latest kid on the block when it comes to 3d on the web, and for new users comes ready equipped with eight avatars. But you don’t need to stick with just these, as you can build your own, or use avatar's created by other people. Read more about Atmosphere Avatars.



Last updated - 2 February 2003