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Avatar and Golem, Inc.: From Ancient Gods to Techno-cultural Play

The idea of the Avatar “ the telepresence or local presence of a remote agent “ has for millennia been associated with magic and religion. In Sanskrit 3500 years ago, the term ‘avatar’ was used for the appearance of divine Buddhist ‘gods’ who ‘crossed over’ and ‘projected themselves’ into the earthly plane of physical existence. Since its re-entry into usage with a new set of meanings (invoked by computer engineer and designer Chip Morningstar as a descriptor for the virtual actors in the first VisMOO, LucasFilm’s Habitat (1985 ), the re-vitalised Avatar has become the most successfully fictionalised, visualised and virtualised remote presence afforded us by the new telematic or tele-cybernetic technologies of ‘command, control and feedback’ (as Norbert Wiener put it in the early 60s). Like its more recent historical counterpart, the ‘automotive’ Golem (a word that paradoxically embodies power and powerlessness, magic and technology, illusion and reality), Avatar is a word eminently suitable to the age of global connection and flows; an age of new images and ideas, of potential production of new subjectivities in ceaselessly fluid digital representations of our selves.