Patricia profile photos 2011, 2019, 2023. Last photo by Stephen McLeod Blythe



Time for a change

A few days ago, I changed my profile picture… Everywhere I could think of…

This was actually quite time consuming! And while doing that, I reflected on what an avatar is and what it does represent, see below!

Some websites (and I guess most of WordPress based sites) use the Gravatar service, so the picture has automatically been updated, but on most of the sites and social networks, I had to go change it manually (and there are a lot of sites 😅).

That’s one of the reasons I do not change my profile pics too often. Another reason is that people recognise you with your avatar. It is nice, when meeting people at WordCamps or other events, to connect the online identity to the flesh-and-bones human when we finally meet in person. When we work online with people from all around the world, this is important!

I wanted to change because I have always felt that the 2019 photo was showing some kind of sadness. When I took it, I thought that I had a slight smile, but we can actually see the state of mind. I faced a series of very difficult personal events for some years, and really, that shows on the image. (Edit: link to my “2022-2023, my first normal years” post added on 25 December 2023).

The new 2023 image conveys much better who is “the current me”. It was taken during WordCamp Europe in June 2023 in Athens while I was on stage for the “Contributing to WordPress without knowing how to code” panel.

The photographer

WordCamps always have photographers among their volunteers/organisers. This photo is listed in the official WordCamp Europe photo gallery.

It was taken by Stephen McLeod Blythe, aka Clicky Steve, who you can find on their site allmyfriendsarejpegs, on Instagram or on X/Twitter. I also like very much this video made by Stephen about the city of Athens.

The photo is shared under the CC BY-SA license which means that I’m supposed to attribute the work. It’s virtually impossible to add text to profile pictures everywhere and on Gravatar, so I thought it would be a good idea to write this post, which I can link to when needed.

You can see my X/Twitter conversation with Stephen here about this.

What is an Avatar?

Now, I also wanted to add a little bit of history about Avatars.

We use this word for profile pictures on internet or in-game characters in videos games, but this usage is only a few decades old.

The word Avatar is much older and comes from Sanskrit and as per Wikipedia:

“Avatar (Sanskrit: अवतार, avatāra; pronounced [ɐʋɐt̪aːɾɐ]) is a concept within Hinduism that in Sanskrit literally means “descent”. It signifies the material appearance or incarnation of a powerful deity, or spirit on Earth. The relative verb to “alight, to make one’s appearance” is sometimes used to refer to any guru or revered human being.”

Wikipedia entry for “Avatar”

The use in the computer era is described on this other Wikipedia page but the meaning remains: “one’s appearance/representation/incarnation”. This is also found in the magnificent Avatar movie, where the main character’s soul enters another body, an incarnation.

See this “Q&A with James Cameron” on Time in 2007:

What is an avatar, anyway?

It’s an incarnation of one of the Hindu gods taking a flesh form. In this film what that means is that the human technology in the future is capable of injecting a human’s intelligence into a remotely located body, a biological body. It’s not an avatar in the sense of just existing as ones and zeroes in cyberspace. It’s actually a physical body. The lead character, Jake, who is played by Sam Worthington, has his human existence and his avatar existence. He’ll be shown using live-action photography in 3-D and computer-generated imagery.

Q&A with James Cameron” on Time

Last word

Furthermore, I am wondering if the modern use of the word Avatar could be considered as cultural appropriation, and I would love my Hindu friends to tell how it is perceived.

See, my mind wandered a lot while manually updating my profile picture in my accounts across the web on a big number of websites!

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