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Not too long ago, there was an interesting and wide-ranging discussion on the RyanSchultz.com Discord server, about a March 3rd, 2021 article on Medium, written by Greg Fodor, titled The Rise of Avatarism. In it, Greg wrote:
Avatarism is a movement to recognize and protect the fundamental human right of freedom of form. Like freedom of speech, freedom of form is a claim on an endowed right to free expression. And like the right to bear arms, it is a right which will suddenly gain relevancy after specific technological breakthroughs.
Specifically, freedom of form is the right to choose the form in which you are seen by others...
Soon our physical form will become subservient to one or more virtualized ones. Fully controlling how we are seen by others will become more accessible, frequent, common, and culturally accepted, and be less like a radical, life-altering event, and much closer to how we think of changing our clothes today.
He mentions that some people choose plastic surgery or body modification to permanently change their real-life physical appearance, something to which I can attest. My dirty little secret is that I am obsessed with the dumpster-fire-train-wreck of the Botched Surgeries subReddit community, where I am routinely appalled by the horrible, botched plastic surgeries that people put themselves through in real life—butt implants that stick out like shelves, facial filler that gives unnaturally sharp cheekbones and chins, eyebrow lifts that make people look like they should speak Vulcan, and breast implants that look like overinflated balloons that are about to pop at any second. (WARNING: If you visit, you might need eye bleach afterwards! Consider yourself warned! I constantly come away from that Reddit community feeling much better about myself and my own body, though.)
Greg argues, though, that with the advent of consumer XR technology (virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality headsets, and eventually, glasses), we are at the cusp of an era where we can change how people see us, but in a less permanent way:
Soon our physical form will become subservient to one or more virtualized ones. Fully controlling how we are seen by others will become more accessible, frequent, common, and culturally accepted, and be less like a radical, life-altering event, and much closer to how we think of changing our clothes today…
Today, many are benefiting from virtualized avatars or by completely overriding their physical forms. Avatar chat apps and online games have allowed millions to embody avatars…
Meanwhile, phone-based augmented reality is taking off, letting people experiment with fully overriding how they appear to others. Snapchat filters, AR-generated clothing, and celebrity deepfakes are getting more and more sophisticated and accessible to your average person…
All of these point to a wider trend of virtualized, avatar-based representations becoming widely accepted and embraced.
(By the way, speaking of phone-based AR, you can check out my adventures with feeding Second Life avatar selfies into the WOMBO and Reface apps here.)
I’m not going to directly quote a lot of Greg Fodor’s thought-provoking article; you can go over and read it yourself. It’s a 15-minute read, and well worth it, as he raises some interesting philosophical and theoretical questions about the topic. For example, will we reach a point where someone actually goes to court to assert their right to freedom of form, i.e. how other people are required to see them? (For example, a Dutchman recently lost a bid to legally lower his age by 20 years.)
I was pondering all this when yesterday, news dropped that the Swedish supergroup ABBA (one of the best-selling music artists of all time, with an estimated 150 million records sold worldwide) had reunited after 40 years, and were releasing a new album in November.
The four members of the group spent five weeks being recorded in motion-capture suits for an upcoming series of London concerts produced by George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic studio, which will feature Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, and Anni-Frid Lyngstad as holographic avatars, pictured as they would have appeared at the height of their fame in 1979. Yahoo! News reports:
The 10-track album, ABBA Voyage, will be released on Nov. 5, and the new songs will also be performed during a virtual concert residency that will open at a custom-built arena in East London on May 27, 2022. The “revolutionary” show, also titled “ABBA Voyage,” will run six nights a week and will feature ABBA holograms — cleverly known as “ABBAtars” — and a 10-piece live band playing 22 of the Swedish superstars’ greatest hits.
The ABBAtars were designed by Industrial Light and Magic (the visual effects company founded by George Lucas), and more than 850 people employed motion-capture technology to recreate band members Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, and Anni-Frid Lyngstad’s “every mannerism and every motion” from when they were “in their prime.”
You can see a bit of these avatars at the tail end of this new music video:
I still vividly remember the live Lindsey Stirling concert I attended in Wave as a highlight of my social VR experiences in 2019, where the electronic violinist wore a full-body 3D motion capture suit and special VR gloves, which allowed her to completely animate her avatar in Wave, from her head down to her feet (including each individual finger on her hands), as she played and danced! Unlike Lindsey, who played a live concert and steered her avatar directly, the upcoming ABBA concerts will consist of prerecorded avatar hologram playback to the music (performed by a 10-piece live band).
Truly, when the members of a band can appear on a physical stage as they were 40 years ago at a concert series, we have entered the age of avatarism! We may yet witness things which we never would have ever dreamed possible in the past. As Greg Fodor says in the conclusion of his article:
Avatarism is about the sudden arrival of transformative, new answers to a universal question: how should others see you?
If you think the answer is a simple one, one day you might just look back and yourself, and smile at your naïveté.