In the book Religion and the Digital Arts, Dr. J. Sage Elwell writes that at this moment in history, “[it] no longer makes sense to talk about any substantive distinction between life online and life offline.” Because of the proliferation and prevalence of technology in our mobile devices, computers, TVs, and Apple watches, the digital and the analog have become “two spheres inextricably entwined and practicably indistinguishable.” Our lives online mirror and extend our lives offline.
I took a class in undergrad which Elwell taught called Digital Religion, and as part of the class, we created digital avatars on Facebook, entities with no basis in human reality or corporal form. This was before Instagram became so popular, and Elwell wanted us to think about our avatars and to consider the phantoms that we would leave behind. Will the internet outlive us? When we die, will these parts of ourselves—our status updates, photos, tweets, and expressions—become our legacies and our histories?
For Elwell, “Identity is avatar and avatar is identity. Community is network and network is community. The sets of terms are interchangeable.” I could not help but think of Elwell’s writing when I was thinking about the work of curators who create online spaces for art viewing that are both aesthetically pleasing and approachable without the presence of physical space.