Identity in the Networked World

Jean Baudrillard

Baudrillard's work deals mostly with the metaphysical question of what is real. Simulation, simulacra, and the hyperreal—they all have a place in the networked world.

Computer simulations provide good examples illustrating Baurdrillard's theories. A simulation, or first order simulacra, imitates something from the real world. We often find this in 3d games like flight simulators.

A simulation becomes hyperreal when the simulation seems more real than reality itself. Many have become addicted to life in the online world, and as that world becomes more engrossing then actual life, it becomes hyperreal.

Finally, a pure simulacrum bears no relation to anything real, but seems very realistic and becomes reality, such as the virtual reality of The Matrix. 3d Avatars can also illustrate the blurring of the real and the simulated—for example, think of the space-alien model in your favorite video game. We know there are no aliens, but that model becomes an alien to you. It is a copy without a model, a simulacrum.

Baudrillard forces us to look at the world in a different way. By constantly questioning what is real versus what is simulated, or if a difference even exists, we learn that identity holds more than it appears to at first glance.