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Leher Kala writes: The digital avatar’s new clothes

Leher Kala writes: There is always a bewildering amount of technological advancement to catch up on. I suspect many people know the buzzwords but lack any genuine understanding like me.

Digital goods will be an important way to express yourself in the metaverse and a big driver of the creative economy. (Photo: Twitter/Meta)

On that first day of the year, when the world vows to undertake determined self-improvement, my humble resolutions for 2022 were to figure out what a podcast is, and to understand what “metaverse”, a term so liberally bandied about these days, actually means.

In a fit of enthusiasm, I also promised myself that I’ll read up on cryptocurrencies. It’s late June and I have half-heartedly listened to some podcasts (a fancy word for online talk. It’s perfectly alright to go through life without listening to one). But my knowledge of complex topics like blockchains and bitcoins remains abysmal.

There is always a bewildering amount of technological advancement to catch up on. I suspect many people know the buzzwords but lack any genuine understanding like me.

My interest in what I would normally deem deadly boring was piqued by an announcement by luxury fashion brands Balenciaga and Prada, when they said they will be selling digital designs for peoples’ avatars on Instagram and Facebook Messenger.

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Apparently, there are people willing to spend real money to dress up their fake selves to appear super trendy in their online lives.

You could be lounging in Uniqlo tracks at home, but if you buy digital fashion, your friends on social media will
see you wearing Balenciaga Fall 22 collection’s three-piece jeans and distressed trench coats.

The idea of buying clothes that don’t exist sounds crazy initially; but if people can spend millions on digital assets in art, unperturbed that their purchases don’t have a tangible form — content merely with digital bragging rights — the rise of virtual clothes shouldn’t be surprising.

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Aspects of new tech provoke sneering ridicule because us obsolete, middle-aged relics are inclined to ask a reasonable question: who cares what brands a cartoonish-looking avatar on a computer screen is wearing?

Our generation was brought up on down-to-earth wisdom, taught to always mind the gap between projection and reality — in other words, lies — but the virtual realm calmly accepts human frailties and the restless impulse we constantly
suppress to escape our lives.

As our actual world seemingly hurtles towards destruction, war and displacement, the urge to flee to a safe online refuge only increases.

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For a lot of humanity, reality is frustratingly tragic, so an imaginary avatar, over which you can exert full control, must be hard to resist.

Voila! Now, even if you are short, fat and furry in person, there is the option to be a sexy blonde character, donning shimmering gold on Instagram.

Is that a lie? Not if we stop thinking of digital lives being rooted in an illusory dystopia. Technology has proven reality need not be the singular version we’re familiar with.

The idea that we contain multitudes is not new. Gabriel Garcia Marquez had noted in the early 20th century that all human beings have three lives — public, private and secret — and they are all crucial to the human experience.

Life is hard and long, but not too long to explore other, myriad, sides of the self. We should take our cues from 15-year-olds, who don’t make hierarchical distinctions between their online and physical lives to unapologetically tap into the boundless possibilities the virtual world offers. How do we know the world is real? Philosophers have been contemplating since Plato’s time. The Matrix forced us to consider whether we’re being manipulated in a simulation.

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Perhaps, it’s more important that humanity has readily embraced the idea that the real is whatever we want it to be. Head on over to British influencer Daniella Loftus’s handle on Instagram @thisoutfitdoesnotexist, where imagination disregards the limitations of clothing.

In one image, darts fly out of her bustier and in another, liquid fire pours out of a leopard skin skirt. It’s wildly escapist, a rich mix of sartorial performance and self-expression.

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This is new, uninhabited design territory, maybe, a conceptual leap too far — but that doesn’t make it any less real.

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First published on: 26-06-2022 at 04:30:55 am
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