The internet as a third layer
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about digital spaces. I think of the internet as a third layer. There’s the first layer, the physical layer, which we as humans are most familiar with. We wake up, we commute to work, and we interact with people. All of this is done in a tangible, physical world in which we live. The second layer is defined by thoughts and feelings. Think of a castle far up in the sky, floating on a cloud. You can see it, you can feel it, but it’s not physically present. This is the second layer. Dreaming, thinking, feeling. The third layer is made possible by the internet. These concepts that were previously stuck in our head can now be expressed through technology. We share information, interact with people, and express emotion all through a third layer of our reality.
Early explorations of digital spaces
The earliest explorations of digital spaces can be tied to social networks. The first recognized social networking site, Six Degrees, was founded in 1997 and named after the six degrees of separation theory of the social graph. This was the first time people were able to create an online profile and obtain an identity other than that of the first layer.
As social networking progressed, digital spaces expanded. Now we use sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram every day. These products allow us to exist in a digital world where regular interaction with celebrities and people we admire is possible.
Masking identity theory
The beauty about the third layer and digital spaces is that you don’t have to exist as you do in the first layer. People have the agency to choose how they look, what they like, and even who they are. The theory of masking identity was first proposed by Richard Coyne in his book Building Virtual Communities where he explains the concept of a mask in digital spaces. People have different masks to express different emotions and interests. If they have a deep interest in rap music, maybe they pretend to be a rapper online. These masks allow people to express themselves in a way that the first layer doesn’t allow.
Future of digital spaces
Digital spaces have come a long way, but they still have a ways to go. I think the future of digital spaces will rely heavily on VR/AR and avatars. People want the third layer to be as close to the first layer as possible. The closer they are, the more realistic the interactions feel. People want to express themselves with avatars that look like them, or what they wish they looked like. They want to interact with worlds that were once accessible only in their imagination. The future of digital spaces will allow for full immersion into a world where will people feel like they belong.