Who am I when I’m on the Internet?

I started this post more than a month ago, when I’d just read both that blogger A Gay Girl In Damascus was kidnapped and also that maybe she doesn’t even exist.   I’d already been thinking a lot about identity presentation on the Internet.

At that point the news wasn’t out yet that in fact the supposed Gay Girl in Damascus was a straight guy from the U.S., but when that news broke the corners of the Internet I watch had a lot to say about it, and then dropped it as quickly as any other Internet story.  But I’m still thinking about it.

I’ve written before about this blog as a space where I’ve experimented with increasing honesty and integrity about myself and my identity. From this platform I’ve jumped off to additional public expressions of my identity, my interests, and my ideas. I’m blogging for GoodVibes. I started Pagan Families.

My real name is attached to all of this, not one of the handful of Internet handles I’ve made up over the years when they were more common than using real names. Not a pseudonym like some of the people I’m interviewing for GoodVibes use to protect their personal lives from their work lives.

In 1999 Starhawk (whose work I taught a course on earlier this summer) wrote,

At twenty-eight, I didn’t mind being a rebel. The need for secrecy around Witchcraft just added to its charm. But at forty-eight, as I see the children grow up around us, I find the necessity for fear and secrecy around our tradition intolerable.

I guess I’m with her on this.  So there you go: I didn’t get around to coming out on Pagan Coming Out Day, but in case it’s not abundantly obvious, I’m a Pagan. PhD. Mom.  Who’s interested in food and sexuality and feminism and birth.  And I don’t think there’s anything to be ashamed of in that combination, but there are a lot of people out there who would wildly disagree.

I recently watched An Anthropological Introduction to YouTube (on YouTube!). It’s nearly an hour long and it’s from 2008 which in Internet years make it pretty elderly, but I really enjoyed it. Michael Wesch discusses the culture of YouTube, including the ways in which people cultivate the presentation of their identities, real or assumed.

More recently, many of my closest friends and I were privileged to be among the first to join the field trial of Google+, and so many of us engaged in a new round of thinking and talking about identity presentation on the Internet.  Newer sites like Google+ encourage the use of real names, but some people still considered using their old handles.  Google+ offers a flexible “circles” system that let’s you filter how you post content, because maybe what you want to publish about yourself for your grandmother is different than what you want to publish for your boss or your babysitter or your best friend.

Who are you on the Internet?  Do you use more than one name?  Do you use different social networks for different parts of your life?  When we’re all encouraged to craft ourselves as media presentations available for consumption, is it really such a big deal if we present ourselves how we wish we were, rather than how we really are (whatever that means)?

In Cinderella Ate My Daughter, Peggy Orenstein wrote:

Online, I carefully consider how any comments or photos I post will shape the persona I have cultivated; offline, I have caught myself processing my experience as it occurs, packaging life as I live it.  As I loll in the front yard with Daisy or stand in line at the supermarket or read in bed, part of my consciousness splits off, viewing the scene from the outside and imagining how to distill it into a status update or a Tweet.  (166)

In a few days I’ll be boarding a plane with my toddler and we’ll be off for a two week vacation in Boston – and I’ve been debating whether to bring my computer.  I’ll have my smart phone, but without my computer I’m unlikely to blog.  Since Bridget doesn’t really seem to understand phone conversations, and the computer will allow her to video chat with her Dad, I think that means I’ll be taking it.  But who would I be without it?  Offline?  Remember?  That place where we used to live our whole lives?

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5 Responses to Who am I when I’m on the Internet?

  1. Hillary says:

    Thanks for sharing yourself with us Sarah. When I was first online I felt like the internet was the place where I could be “myself”. You know the explore the parts of myself that I had to keep under wraps to fit in with family and friends.

    Then I started blogging and joined Twitter and some friends and family who knew me in my every day life found me and it stopped me dead in my tracks. Now, it’s not like I was operating under some secret alias, but it felt safe to me and then the internet started feeling exposed. I eventually started to use all my profiles as the real name me and found a really comfortable place that helps me not over-share (do I want my dad to read this) and also be really authentic about who I am etc.

    I just jumped on Google+ and love the way circles work. My childbirth professional colleagues don’t need to see every cute kid update and my social media colleagues don’t need to know the recent C-sections rates (….or maybe they do ;-).

  2. secabeen says:

    As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more interesting in just being myself rather than playing with alternate personas under pseudonyms. I’ve heard and given “own what you are” as advice enough times that I’m trying to live it, although the realities of exposing to family that which they may not like is still hard.

  3. I am NOT with Starhawk on this one. I am “out” on the internet (and in most of my life), but I use a name that is not my legal name. Once you have been targeted for violence because of your beliefs and the company you keep, you learn to protect yourself.

    Most people in my life do not even know my real name. I only use it for renting an apartment, getting a paycheck, or having a bank account- things like that. But the protection that that small distance gave me when I was being stalked and targeted for violence saved me and my family.

    • Lily, that sounds truly awful. Just to clarify, Starhawk isn’t exhorting folks to come out of the closet. In context, it’s clear that what Starhawk is saying is that a society which requires you to be secretive in order to be safe is an intolerable society.

  4. Pingback: What I’ve been reading | Reproductive Rites

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