Cars and Contemporary Communication| When Automobiles are Avacars: A Self-Other-Utility Approach to Cars and Avatars
This article argues that automobiles can be understood as avatars, or avacars, given the inclusive definition of avatars as mediated (not necessarily digital) representations of human users that facilitate interaction with other users, entities, or environments. Building on an understanding of user-avatar relationships, the article argues that automobiles (and avatars in general) serve as self-representations, social others, and/or utilitarian tools in different degrees. Examples of automotive and digital avatars are classified within this Self-Other-Utility (SOU) framework. The article argues that this framework provides a new and valuable approach to understanding the antecedents and consequences of using avatars. Regarding consequences, in the automotive context, the SOU framework could be used to explain how psychological and social factors influence driving habits (i.e., safety), adoption (e.g., of autonomous vehicles), and brand loyalty. A measurement scale to facilitate such research is offered. After presenting some potential limitations to this approach, the article concludes with counterarguments that reaffirm the value and relevance of this new perspective to communication scholarship.