Tuesday, September 27, 2011

How "real names" creates the unreal me


After reading Robert Scoble's post on the Washington Post Social Reader application for Facebook, I decided to give the application a try. In addition to trying to figure out how to actually customize the feed to my interests (currently there are no "Lutheran biometric Redskins online games featuring Depeche Mode" stories in my feed, and my friends aren't helping), I was made keenly aware that I was on a stage of sorts.

Everything that I read via the app would be seen by my friends. Both Robert Scoble and Don Graham noted that you don't want to use this to watch porn, and you don't want to use this to read about a company before you begin a hostile takeover of the company. Therefore, when you're using the app, you begin to think about things, such as "Do I want to read this story now, or do I want to wait and read it somewhere else, where Robert Scoble, Jesse Stay, Susan Beebe, et al won't see that I'm reading it?"

This is just one example of how "real names" results in unreal behavior.

While some people don't care, other people are going to be very conscious about the persona that they display online. This has been a concern since Paddy O'Furniture jokes were bouncing around on Usenet 30 years ago, but it's more of a concern now as family, friends, people from church, co-workers, customers, competitors, and others can potentially monitor everything that I do.

Because these "real name" services are becoming more and more common, many people will naturally have two selves. The private self may be off-line, or it may be online via services that don't have a real name requirement. "How can I trust him? He's on Twitter."

Tristowne, who for all I know spends his/her offline time watching Larry the Cable Guy over and over, put it best:

It should be a very key concept in writing studies that writing online means creating a version of yourself that will ultimately reflect on your reputation. Most social media users probably wouldn’t think of themselves as writer, when, in fact, that is what they are. We are creators of internet versions of ourselves, which can be both empowering and detrimental at once.
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