Thursday, March 26, 2009

Anonymity, Pseudonymity, and The Like

I've had a post brewing in my head for a little while now on this very topic, and a journey over to Candid Engineer inspired me to just write the damn thing already. 

I love my blogger pals. As a commenter over at CE echoed, I have more online friends than I do in real life. Yes, it's sad. But most of my offline circle of folks either never went to or never graduated from college. My husband, brilliant as he is, never finished his chemistry degree. Now he's being trained in the military to be a bio-environmental engineer, which is totally awesome. He's very into alternative energy sources and what not, and he knows a LOT about it - but when he tries to talk to me about it, my eyes glaze over. "You want to build a what to do what? Why?" He feels the same way when I talk about psychology - I get "That's cool" as the most frequent response, with no follow-up whatsoever. But it's totally fine with me, because if he was into psych we would probably argue about theory and method all the time. 

Now I'm not saying that my offline friends aren't smart. Quite the contrary, actually. But they don't have the same passion for learning things as I do. I guess you could say that I'm a "knower" and they're all "doers." 

So when PhizzleDizzle and I met up for some margaritas and had 2+ hours of intellectually stimulating conversation, it was like a wonderfully intoxicating drug to me. I feel that way when I read the blogs of everyone here. I am officially addicted to critical thinking - my own and that of others.

This is what led me to lament on the lack of blogger-types at the grad school where I interviewed. Perhaps if I had never ventured into the blogging community, I would not have had the expectations of what people in academia would be like that led to the disappointment. 

But, as CE pointed out, we don't really know each other. We blog under fake names or variations thereof, going to great lengths to protect who we are, lest the wrong people match us to our candid discourse online. 

But I think that, at least to some extent, many of us wish that we were known. We also want to know our blogger friends. Because in certain ways, some of them are like the best friends we have ever had. 

When I was applying for the RA job at SFRSHS school, I sent my very personal CV and personal statement to several bloggers who offered to take a look at it and swore to keep my identity secret. These folks now know literally everything about me - it was a big risk. But I wanted to get REAl feedback from the folks who know, and it was my only option.

In a late-evening Gchat with Dr. Isis, I confessed to her the names of all the grad programs I applied to. She offered some insight into the nature of those schools, and I was grateful. 

Regardless of the purpose, it feels good sometimes to take that risk. I have a couple of friends who know about this blog, as does my husband, and I enjoy knowing that there are a few people who read it who know who I am. I like that PhizzleDizzle has a face to attach to the name. I like that a select group of bloggers know exactly which school SFRSHS is. 

Oftentimes I consider just blogging under my real name, with my real info. It would hold me accountable for the things that I say, and who's to say that it couldn't possibly help me professionally in some way? 

But I already hold myself accountable for what I write, and once you give up your anonymity, you can't ever really get it back. Though it's hard to say that you trust someone's advice if you don't trust them to know your name or location. 

I wish sometimes that we had this secret society - like the Freemasons or something. Or the Illuminati. IDFK. You know what I mean - like we have meetings where we all know each other and have to swear sacred oaths and stuff, but when we see each other outside of that context we have to pretend we don't know each other and share a secret smile about how much cooler we are than everyone else. 

Anyway, my point is that I think many of us wish that we didn't have to be pseudonymous, and it's nice to know that some of those folks out there know who you really are. 


Toaster Sunshine said...

Sometimes I think about shedding the Toaster Sunshine pseudonym and revealing my Given Name, but other times it seems really stupid. I either event, I've decided that it's probably best not to do so until I've gotten into grad school so that admissions committees can't look me up and go: "Toaster? HELL NO! He's clearly batshit insane! He wants to be a moleculologist and he's obsessed with Tesla coils? What a crazy!" And also that you'd all be able to quickly discover the entire sordid cartooning stint that I did for 3 years.

However, a question:
Do we assume our pseudonyms purely because we wish to be blogonymous? Or are we also motivated to project some aspect of ourselves through our pseudonyms that we are too afraid or insecure about to do in real life? For example, I don't commonly approach faculty and grad students with the big questions I blog about and love to discuss for a variety of reasons. Basically, do we create our pseudonyms as mirrors of ourselves or as idealizations?

E.g., I could blog as Dude McStudly and act like I was a muscly athlete who went to clubs and sweated and understood sports if I wanted to. While it is true that eventually someone would realize that the same inaccuracy I said about sport Y was the same thing Wikipedia said, it is also valid that none of you really know that Toaster isn't a 12-year old WoW dork who can hack the PubMed paywall.

Isis the Scientist said...

It was a pleasure to chat with you and I hope I could be helpful.


PhizzleDizzle said...

TS: you've found me out. I'm actually a 55 year old man with a penchant for female scientists.

oh wait. that doesn't hold up since JLK has met me. oh well. :)

anyway, i think i blog as myself. no one who knows me IRL would be surprised that was me.

and JLK, i also totally wish we had a secret society. there a few people i totally feel like i know, and would love to like...actually know. maybe one day...if we're still all at this years later i wouldn't be surprised if more people outed themselves in private to each other...years of online interaction can instill trust, and i already have one successful online->real life friendship transformation, and i think you'll be the 2nd :).

Becca said...

Who says we really know the people we see in meatspace?
I remember the first time I met one of my professors (someone who's chief personality trait is meticulousness) at an Obama meetup during the campaign. It was very odd, though I'm not sure exactly why. It wasn't that I was surprised to see someone from work, it was something about him didn't mesh with 'political'.

Anyway, I'm inclined to think people will be less concerned with psudeonymity as time goes on but maybe will morph as it gets older.

Eugenie said...

I've had similar thoughts too. I had a dream not too long ago where several bloggers sat down and had drinks at some undisclosed bar. It was very, very strange.

I could probably get away blogging under my real name since there are several prominent people with my EXACT name (ugh). That, and very few people actually know of my school.

leigh said...

a very interesting line of thought. it's definitely true that your interactions as a pseud are limited to things that won't divulge who you are. and in some ways, this limits how well you can really know the people who are in your blog network, if you want know people on a personal level.

but otoh, your IP already tells people *where* you are. you do already trust the bloggers you visit to not take that information to their advantage. in one case, i was a little freaked out by this, as some visitor of mine is from the city that's my second choice on the "where to move next" list.

so there are lots of balancing acts, and it would be nice if we could cut the shit sometimes. but one final thought- would i have written my recent post with my real name attached? i hesitated enough under the pseud.

leigh said...

ah, also, one Sb'er has professional ties to my boss. at first, i found the small-world phenomenon to be beyond nerve-wracking. but i have found this blogger to be quite trustworthy, and now i don't really worry much. it did make me consider some of the things i say about my environment, though, in case someone less trustworthy runs across the blog.

Mrs. CH said...

This topic is really interesting. Now that I think about it, I do talk about certain things on my blog that I wouldn't discuss as openly IRL. However, there are also things I hold back on because otherwise it would obviously be me.

I think our blogs are just a different version of a friend, you know? There are some friends you always talk about relationships with, but never work, and visa versa. We just chose what to discuss with our "blog friends".

I have some people that I know IRL that read my blog, and they have been very good about keeping my identity under wraps.

I mentioned this in my comment on CE's post - once I finish my PhD I may consider "outing" myself, but we'll see!

Professor in Training said...

I can pretty much guarantee that I'm the same person on my blog that I am in meatspace and I usually discuss the same shit with colleagues, friends or whoever. But you're right in that it's a leap of faith to reveal your identity to another blogger - someone whom you've never met - and hope that your pseudonymity is protected ... it's a mutual trust though as the handful of bloggers who know my non-superhero identity also put their trust in me with their identities.

I would definitely love to chat with you over a bag of Doritos sometime :)

Comrade PhysioProf said...

Coomrade PhysioProf is a golden retreiver with a DSL line!

Odyssey said...

And Odyssey is a minivan with bluetooth!

Who has thought about outing himself. But then anyone who digs hard enough could figure out who I am anyway. Why spoil their fun?

DuWayne Brayton said...

I have occasional concerns about the things that I write about and not writing them anon.

When I first started blogging I did use a pseudonym, but decided that it just wasn't for me. Then I went into business for myself - thankfully in Portland, OR, where my occasionally radical political views were not much of a problem. I did discover that some of the people I worked for googled me, including a few who really disagreed with some of my views. Still worked for them though, because I have a hella good rep in Portland as a top-notch handyman/remodeler.

Now that I am taking a very different direction, I occasionally get nervous about the writing I've done under my name. At the same time I've discussed it some with the people I will probably be studying under in the relative to near future and have been assured that my ideas and the work I am doing to shape them up speak much louder than my neurological issues and political views.

And the writing I've done will go a long way towards knocking the wind out of the sails of folks who may decide to fuck with me because I'm moving onto a fastrack with my education. Kind of hard to to gossip about a guy who pretty well lays out the juicy gossip about him on his blog.

It does however, limit the topics I will discuss. There is one in particular that I really want to open up about, but am just not sure would be appropriate. And it means that I can't easily get away with bitching about the folks I work with...

JLK said...

@Toaster - I can't speak for others, but I can say that my blogger self is 100% my real self - nothing downplayed or exaggerated. You make a great point that any of us could be blogging as someone completely different or even the opposite of who we really we are. But here's the thing, I don't think blogging is the place to do that.

I feel like when it comes to blogging, what would be the point of going around posting blogs and comments under this fake persona? In an environment where nearly everyone is pseudonymous, they're not going to reveal themselves to you and it doesn't really matter if they like you or not. People put up fake profiles on sites like MySpace and Facebook in an attempt to manipulate people. I don't see how that would really be very effective here, unless there are bloggers having cybersex over Gchat and I don't know about it.

@Leigh - No, I wouldn't expect you to have put up that post under your real name. But that's my point. I'm guessing you would never in a million years go to a party full of strangers and start relaying your story to anyone who wants to listen, regardless of whether or not they knew your name. The level of intimacy I see expressed here in the form of blogs often surpasses what I see in everyday life. That compulsion to disclose certain things - whether it is a very personal story or your real name - is what I am addressing here. I think your post is a perfect example.

@Mrs CH - you're absolutely right about different kinds of friends. But I bet that if we each tallied up the things we are willing to share on our blogs versus what we'll tell people in real life, the blog would win out. And that's very, very interesting. It seems to me that most of the information that gets left out is the really mundane stuff - the stuff you would tell someone in line at Starbucks. "Yeah, I'm a prof/grad student over at University X." Because identifiers become irrelevant in real life, it doesn't matter who you share them with.

@PiT - in preparation for my husband's departure I bought the classic Nacho Cheese Doritos, the taco/chipotle ranch, and the pizza/ranch kind. I also have a bag of buffalo/blue cheese leftover in my cabinet from a party. LOL. In other words, I am well-stocked, so bring it on!

Anonymous said...

"Or are we also motivated to project some aspect of ourselves through our pseudonyms that we are too afraid or insecure about to do in real life?"

Interesting...I've been wondering why Dr. No and Comrade PhysioProf would assume male it because they are able to express their intense, aggressive, loud, swearing "male" sides in their writing? hmm.

It seems it would be cooler to keep the writing style and a female identity and serve as role models for women who feel societal pressure to be less aggressive.

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