Second Life and virtual identity was a dominant theme at last week's World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland. In this emerging Age of the Avatar, it's worth noting that Latin has the form persona, meaning a mask, a role or a person, which evolved from the Etruscan word phersu (mask). In our Internet era of persistent identity, the anonymous world of the avatar is becoming increasingly more alluring and powerful. In the small, inter-connected city-states and villages of early European history, annual rituals and carnivals using masks cloaked one's identity and provided an important social release and psychic excape mechanism.
The mask (avatar) hides and protects whoever wears one. In primitive societies, it was meant to protect from spirits and evil creatures; it also transformed whoever wears it, giving them the strength and power of what it represents and making them no longer human. Throughout history, masks played a divine function, as a mediator between God and humans, a way of communicating with supernatural entities. It will be fascinating to see how avatars evolve in our new, emerging virtual "Second Life" worlds.
A Daily Galaxy staff report by Jason McManus