Monday, October 18, 2010

Identity In 2010

I first put my toe in the shallow end of the Internet pool way back on October 21, 1994. That's when I set up an account on AOL and began exploring the Internet. And I remember that moment of panic when the prompt came up to create a Screen Name. A what?? I didn't know I would need a screen name. But the HELP section explained it to me. And it gave some precautions. So I felt I should choose something that didn't tell people exactly who I was.

After that, for years, we were all told to be somewhat anonymous online. Women shouldn't use a screen name that indicated they were female cause they would just be targeted for sex. Kids shouldn't reveal they were young or they would be targeted for sex. Somehow, middle aged white guys weren't being targeted for sex. Some of us were just a tad insulted. But we moved on...being anonymous online. Hiding behind screen names. I had a screen name for AOL...and so did my wife. I had a screen name for CompuServe (remember that one!?!). Of course, it was a different screen name than the AOL screen name cause the same one wasn't available on both services. But heck, being a whole bunch of anonymous people had advantages. Every time I wanted to hang out in certain user created chat rooms...well, we don't need to explore that part of my online history.

Point being, for years we were all a big secret.

And then things began to change. Integrity came with transparency. Being the real me made it possible to blog and do other things online as a professional. And as those professional uses of social media began to overlap with personal uses, there was more confusion between various aliases in some places with real names (or in my case, still clinging to the idea that some secrecy was the way to go), an initial and a name.

Then came facebook. Everyone suddenly felt the need to use their real names. Otherwise, how could those old college friends find you? Besides, facebook feels like a safe place...just people sharing photos of their kids, talking about the routine pieces of their lives, and touching base with old and new friends.

Now...what's a boy to do? My professional blog and professional twitter account identify me the same way. My name. My facebook account has my real name. But blogger...the place I've actually connected and talked with many people...I'm still a nickname. Sure, many of the folks who have talked with me via e-mail over the years know my real name now. But there is an odd disconnect between here and everywhere else. All my family and friends know me on facebook. Only two people that I actually know in real life know about my blog. But I don't write anything here that would offend them or upset them. And even if I did, I write what I really think. It isn't a big secret.

So at what point does pseudo-privacy and anonymity fade away and we all become clickable as the person that we really are?

What do YOU think? How do YOU handle it? Are YOU...really you?


Thumper said...

I've always been me online, even in the early days of Prodigy and it's assigned ID numbers (JTSM66B...still remember it.) I've tried to be careful about how much personal info I put out there with my name, but I've never bent over backwards to hide it. Maybe naive, but I figured if anyone was going to try to use my info, they had ways of getting it no matter what.

Now a friend of mine...he's so paranoid that he refuses to tell people where he lives, what he does...pretty much anything. He's online for his amusement, and not his connections, but it does make him kinda frustrating...

Em said...

Prodigy! Wow, you go way back just like I do. The "good old days" of dial-up modems and listservs and all that good stuff.

Thanks for your input. I'm definitely leaning toward your approach...a careful version of the real me.

Mrs. Chili said...

Oh, I have a LOT to say about this. A girlfriend is managing a huge blog crisis right now (go to my site and read "To Whom Does a Story Belong").

Even though I think my veil of anonymity is thin at best, I maintain it nonetheless. Though I never set out to hurt or offend anyone on my site, I do recognize that some of the things I may write (or, more to the point, the way I may write them) will upset some people. Sometimes, having that layer of anonymity helps to further the discourse; if we're at least a little anonymous, the conversation is somehow less personal. Eh - I don't love how that sounds, but it's late and I'm not as sharp as I'd like to be... does the "less personal" make sense to anyone but me?

Cocotte said...

I became a member of an online forum in 2006 and became friends with a number of other members through e-mails. Unfortunately, one of those people began playing an emotional game with the members of that forum and started posing as 3 different people. Long story, but she got to the point where she had us believing that one of her identities was about to die and some of the members were phoning each other, discussing raising funds, etc. I began to be suspicious and googled the 'accident' in which 4 family members supposedly died and couldn't find anything. By this time, the moderators of that forum were also looking into it and discovered the false identities.

All that to never really know who you are dealing with online. Use your instincts!

Tanya @ TeenAutism said...

Definitely a dilemma - I let myself have a false sense of security using my real name on my blog because my kids have a different last name, and I haven't mentioned it. So far there haven't been any problems, but there are certainly times when I wish I had gone anonymous, mostly if I want to write about something and wish to maintain privacy.

secret agent woman said...

Obviously I don't use my name on my blog. Not that anyone who knew me wouldn't recognize me. I use my real first name when I email other bloggers, but never on the actual blog. The email account associated with it doesn't use my name. My real email account always had (I think I got email around the same time you did. Had dial-up and one of those $9.95 PeoplePC accounts.) On my facebook account, I use my real name, along with my kids's names. I don't combine the two worlds, though.

Em said...

Thanks for such nice comments.

Mrs. Chili - I had read that post when you wrote it and it had made me think. It was part of the thought process that got me to the point of writing my post. Your friend is in a tough spot...and a small bit of anonymity would have helped, perhaps. I do understand your "less personal" idea...let the writing be about my feelings, thoughts, ideas, observations...without really being about the people involved. And if my name isn't really is just about the concepts.


Em said...

Cocotte - the other side of the coin. Being anonymous let's people do things they might not ordinarily do. In your case, one person posed as several people and began to manipulate people in a very unethical, unhealthy manner. So an argument in favor of not hiding behind acronyms, pseudonyms, screen names.

Em said...

Tanya - with different last names, you have a slight benefit when it comes to putting yourself out there while protecting your kids. And actually, though I had not even thought about it in that way, the same works for me. I have a different last name than my wife or my kids. That wouldn't matter for the people who know us, but in the big world of the internet, perhaps it gives them a veil of privacy?

Secret Agent - you and I have talked and even e-mailed about this in the past. You and I are alike at this point...Facebook is really us but our blogs are not quite us...when it comes to identity.

Many good comments and thoughts to ponder. Maybe I should just ditch it all and write using my "porn name"...Tiger Russell. LOL

Debbie said...

I'm really Debbie. But I don't use my last name or the names of any other family members on my blog. It is hard to know how to approach all this.