Digital Identity Management

I read this article today, and it made me think of all the people who have false and/or multiple identities on the Internets.

I’m one of the co-founders of Windsoc, and I have several web projects aside from that.  I’ve done quite a bit of consulting in the past, and I still do the odd one today.  I’ve also dabbled in politics, having run for office once and spent many hours on issues that I feel are important, such as youth recreation and city planning.  And I’m a part-time writer of speculative fiction, spending around 0.1 hours a week on it and seeing my literary career advance at the same rate as the snows of Kilimanjaro.  And then there’s that television series I was working on…

So which one of these “hats” do I wear on Twitter?  I worry about annoying followers by talking about the wrong things, so I generally say nothing at all.  My personal blog has always been political, so I don’t feel it makes sense to start talking about startups or technology or programming.  And there are many things I just can’t say on the Windsoc Blog, since I’m not the only one involved in this venture.

My Identity Crisis: Why can’t I be more than one thing on the web?

Like every person, this guy has multiple aspects of his life that are mostly separate. At the very least most people separate family, friends, and work. Many people have even more separate lives. Perhaps they have multiple jobs, multiple separate friend groups, even multiple families. On top of that we now have different lives as members of various communities that have been able to form thanks to the Internet.

People, myself included, tend to act as different people within these different realms. Conversation topics, manners of speech, or even entire personalities can be completely different when someone is with their family as opposed to when they are at work or out with friends. This is both conscious and subconscious. Even if you are most comfortable acting as a drunken clown, you do not want to do that at your job. Yet, you don’t have to think about it. The environment of the workplace changes your behavior such that you act in a certain manner.

On the web, it’s a bit different. You haven’t actually changed your surrounding physical environment, or the physical people that are surrounding you. It’s the same you in the same place with the same Internet connected device. Thus, even when you interact with different groups, you don’t automatically change who you are.

Sometimes you might be interacting through web forums, which is like changing environments. It’s relatively easy to be a different person on Fark than you are on Reddit. It’s much more difficult to be a different person on Twitter, since it all has to be conscious. You have to actively decide how to act based on what user you are logged in as.

There are things you can do to help that subconscious switch. Maybe use a different Twitter client for each different account. That way you can associate the different aspects of yourself with different visual environments. Use the twitter website for your family twitter account and use Tweetdeck for your business tweets.

Even then, I have a better idea. Stop being multiple people. I really don’t like this aspect of human culture that we change who we are. I suffer from it as well as anyone else, but I try to do what I can to notice it and reduce it. Whether it’s family, friends, or work I try to break down the barriers between them.

It might be trying to get my family members to come to a geeky convention, or telling my coworkers about My Little Pony fandom. I want to be my most comfortable and true self all the time. I don’t want to change who I am because of where I am or who is nearby. I want to have one “true” identity that is always on. I want to always be the same person all the time.

And that is why I have just one account in each place. I’ll tweet about New York food trucks, technology, and games all in the same hour. I’ll connect to co-workers, family, and friends all from the same LinkedIn account. I’ll friend my mom on Facebook and also people who listen to my podcast.

If I happen to share something online from one aspect of my life that other people don’t understand, I see that as an opportunity. There’s nothing about myself that I need to hide from anyone I know. If someone judges me based on what they see in other aspects of my life that were previously hidden from them, fuck ’em. There are enough other people who will see those other aspects and bridge the gap.

Thanks to the Internet we have been able to bring people so far apart so much closer together. That is the miracle that has caused this situation in the first place. Why then would we put up barriers at the last line of defense to keep people apart?

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One Response to Digital Identity Management

  1. Tiago Bonetti says:

    Very good article / post. What is really interesting in people is the depth you see from watching from multiple points of view. Someone who only talk about one topic seems more a lifeless sprite than a real human being.

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