Monday, June 21, 2010

The power of self-identification - my view on how we present ourselves

Over the weekend, I received a notification that someone had replied to my comment on the Doodiepants post McDonald’s Website just for People with Darker Skin – Actually, the person hadn't replied to MY comment, but what the hey. Note that my comment was written after my own post on the topic.

So anyways, there I was at Doodiepants, and I saw a reference to another post - Barack Obama is Not Black. While the post includes some excellent points, and also discusses the "One Drop Rule," the post ignores one critical point - Obama identifies himself as Black.

This is just one example of the many ways in which we self-identify ourselves. Let me cite some others.

When I attend a conference, I often end up getting a name tag. Now I could put "Johnny" on my name tag, even though there are only a few people (some relatives on my father's side) who call me Johnny. In fact, I could put "Jack" on my name tag, even though no one has ever called me Jack. Or I could call myself "J.E." Or "Fred." Or "Martha."

Or take this popular example, exemplified in this Twitter account. The bio reads "Web Marketing SEM, SEO, SMO, PR 2.0 & VMO Professional." The Twitter handle is @socialmedia2O (that's the letter "O" at the end). The Twitter name? "Social Media Expert."

And sometimes we may identify ourselves differently to different people at different times. I already cited an example of someone who self-identified as a person interested in MSN Train Simulator. I continued:

That review was written on March 27, 2001. Time has passed, and the MSN Train Simulator Fan Site no longer exists. Interestingly enough, the reviewer actually joined Microsoft as an employee a couple of years later, then eventually left and worked for some other tech firms. I can't recall him ever saying anything about trains, although it turns out that he did write about trains in general, and Train Simulator in particular, in a 2007 post in his blog. (Yeah, he's a blogger, although he spends more time on FriendFeed.)

Well, I wrote that particular post in April 2009. A few months later, Mr. Train Simulator Guy, who had previously self-identified as a FriendFeed fanboi, quit actively participating in FriendFeed after the Facebook acquisition.

So look at what I've already shared about this one person. There are people who think of him as the train simulator guy. Others think of him as an ex-Microsoft guy. Others remember him as a FriendFeed champion (or a former FriendFeed champion). They only know certain aspects of his life, and not others - naked conversationalist, Muslim blogger, whatever.

But it's all a matter of presentation. Whether you're Barack Obama the black man, Jack Bredehoft the blogger, SEO SEO SEO the social media expert, or Alex Scoble's brother, you often have a good deal of control regarding how you present yourself, and how others perceive you. While I'll grant that others can impose their perceptions on you (Dan Quayle and Joe Biden are examples of this), there are instances in which you can exercise some level of control.

And yeah, yeah, I should get my own domain name...
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