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Beyond the Lone Islands

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Multiple Me

Some time ago, on one of my random blog-surfing expeditions, I came across one page that afterwards got me thinking about how we choose and express our internet identities. I never bookmarked the page, and don't remember its name, or which way I got there. (Which I'm sort of glad of right now, because otherwise I would probably feel obligated to look it up again before writing about it, to make sure I didn't misinterpret it! But since my impressions remain vague and anonymous, I feel free to use them as such…)

It was a sort of index page with links to a whole set of other blogs, all by the same author. What gave me a sort of creepy feeling was that the index page described and named the different blogs as independent personalities rather than forums for writing about different subjects; and summed it all up by saying: "but they are all ME"…

I have no idea whether the author was just enjoying playing around with fictional characters, or if this was really an expression of a sort of multiple personality disorder.

It just set me thinking how complex "identity" has become, in this cyberspace, where on the one hand it is so easy to hide behind a signature, or pretend to be someone different than who you really are; and on the other hand we are leaving digital footprints most of us never think of but which others might find it easier to track than we can imagine.

I also started thinking, how many different names have I got myself on the internet? User names, login names, signatures, passwords, avatar pictures… How do I choose them, and why? What do they say about me? When I have time, I love figuring out good names and headlines. When I'm in a hurry, I hate those little pop-up questionnaires that demand that I either tell my complete life story, or invent an alternative personality on the spot, to be able to proceed...

Not telling the truth about one's age, for example, can sometimes have unforeseen consequences. At some point in history I probably filled in "00" instead of the actual year of my birth when creating an email account, because I really couldn't see why they needed to know my age. As a result, when I later wanted to fill in my profile, I got the reply: "You are too young to have a profile!" I wonder if in that domain, I will remain forever a child, or if I will eventually be considered mature enough to be allowed a profile? Say, in the year 2018…?


rae said...

Great post. Very interesting. It got me thinking, too!

California Girl said...

My husband tells me to keep changing my password. I do but with slight alterations. Otherwise, I'd never remember. When I change one, I change all so I can keep it straight. It's a major pain.

Pan's Island said...

It certainly is an interesting aspect of online life. I always try and use the same name wherever I go - I think of it as a single nom-de-plume. But in a slightly less related vein I can also understand people using multiple names wherever they go - my fiance drives me nuts sometimes -- to every person he talks to he tells a different story. All his stories sort of circle around the truth but are always just shy of it - it amazes me how he does it - it's like he's lying about the details but the experience he's describing, the essence of what he's saying is true ... and that's the part that matters I suppose. I asked him about it once and he said that it simply isn't anyone's business what his true life story is - they don't need to know the details.

I think it all comes down to our comfort levels, what we're comfortable sharing with others. Me personally, I like the mask of a nom-de-plume - I always found it easier to tell all to a complete stranger, there's just something comforting in it.

DawnTreader said...

I think my trust and my caution on the internet have sort of developed side by side.

Other people's experiences on the first internet forum I ever took part in, soon taught me that there is reason to be careful. If you keep sharing a lot of intimate details about your life in an open forum, you might soon find yourself less anonymous than you wished, even if you are using a signature. It still amazes me how some people seem to remain forever under the illusion that they are only writing for a small group of either close friends or complete strangers, who usually comment on their posts; forgetting (as it seems to me) that others may also be reading, and just possibly among them also some not-quite-so-friendly neighbour.

Without getting too paranoid, I always try to keep that odd chance in mind. Using a signature is one layer of security. Not to write anything I couldn't (if necessary) admit to in public is another...


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