Fascinating story in New Scientist.
For those of us interested in Virtual Worlds, the exciting question is: "What happens when people start to believe their virtual body (i.e. their avatar) is ‘real’?"
When one first enters Second Life (for instance) one of the interesting things is the freaky feeling of interacting with someone, one-on-one, in real time and yet of having no idea what their real name is, how old they are, whether they are male or female, what they actually look like or even where in the world they are (really) sitting as they type on their computer. However you soon get beyond that; as advertising agency planners say, you “suspend your disbelief”. You actually feel you are your avatar (and that other avatars are ‘real’). This is reinforced when fellow residents of SL compliment you on your new hairstyle, trousers or trainers, or give you note-cards or gifts. They seek your opinions and react to you as a fellow resident. Relationships are formed. Naturally enough, it all starts to feel consistent and ‘real’. And soon you are living (at least part of) your life as your avatar.
So I don't find the New Scientist story at all incredible. Perhaps this experiment points to the future of social media. To a world where we will spend increasing amounts of money and time on our avatar as a means of self expression; reaching out to others and interacting without human limitations/ constraints/ responsibilities i.e. living our virtual lives as fully as our real lives.
In a sense we will truly be our avatar. So of course we won’t like the idea of anyone twisting our virtual arms. It's enough to induce (real) muscle spasms…