Thursday, February 19, 2009

MetaBlog: multiple identity disorder?

Should I long for the simple days of the unix whoami command -- a dozen years ago, back when online chat rooms failed to keep my interest? Now, I'm relying on the unexpectedly useful skill of creating Dungeons and Dragons character identities. The crafting of each of my multiple identities is driven to varying degrees by social networking tools, how others are using the tool, and elements of myself that need an expressive outlet. I need to understand friendship in each context and tailor my content contributions to each identity and audience. This is complicated!


First, I decided to make a concerted effort to catch up with my cohort from graduate school. The mutually beneficial appeal of a site that would track current contact information and make additional business connections was a good excuse and strategic method for reconnecting. With a flurry of Google searches and a barrage of invitations my network grew and interconnected wonderful colleagues, classmates, and family members with interesting careers. I already had this public identity tied in a neat little bow, my resume, so barrier to entry was low.

  • whoami = resume
  • friend = people with jobs
  • content = resume & changes in job status
  • fulfillment = maintain and nurture my professional network


My teen cousin borrows my phone to check his Facebook. Co-workers talk about it. I thought I had outgrown my e-chatty stage and was hesitant to commit to an excessive time sink, but success with LinkedIn had weakened my resolve. I care about these people enough to empathize when they are hurting and share in their joys. I want to define myself as a human within this community, but am not ready to put my life under an electronic microscope.

  • whoami = limited personal profile
  • friend = people to whom I'd be willing to address a personal e-mail
  • content = telephone conversations I wouldn't be embarrassed to have on a bus
  • fulfillment = feeling of community, being close to those who are distant


When I found myself arguing the value of mini-blogging with “I read it someplace,” it was time to extend my networking to Twitter. The limited syntax for explicitly defining identity avoids guiding you to preordained use cases. Identity and friendship are fluid rather than static properties here, so current interpretations of myself may not hold over time.

Right now, I am drawn to the freedom of tweeting on my eclectic variety of interests. As a researcher, I am a collector of perspectives and have studied extensively in 4 fields. Perhaps an affinity for “wearing” different contexts causes me to fracture my online selves more than most people. Ironically solving an identity crisis with an identity, I intend to use my current Twitter account to pull together interdisciplinary interests. Somewhere, out there, is someone who will understand the jargon and vocabulary.

  • whoami = content and friends
  • friend = people with something interesting to say
  • content = anything interesting to me
  • fulfillment = customized headlines, new interest-based connections, interdisciplinary expression


Currently, my blog plays a supporting role to Twitter. The format is equally open and serves up detail where headlines and links to existing websites are insufficient. I express in original prose analyses, explanations, book reviews, whatever.

  • whoami, etc. = reference pointer to Twitter identity


This constellation will flex and change. Will I create a private family story/photo album blog? Should I splinter my various interests into different Twitter identities? What level of time will I invest in each arena. What tool will I use to streamline tweet perusal?

Whew! That's exhausting.

Now, it's your turn. whois ______ ?


Anonymous said...

I think all of us do this to some extent, but I worry that the boundaries between these public personae are rather fragile.

Certainly, friends that are on all of my social points-of-presense are getting a more complete picture of me than they would get otherwise.

In person, I draw the line between professional and personal "lives" quite rigidly, but online this line has blurred to the point of being almost meaningless.

Valerie Yakich said...

I appreciate your point. Taken to the extreme, perhaps these lines are ineffectual and counterproductive.

I imagine that we separate these views on self for the benefit of the recipient, but they encourage an artificial one-dimensional role-based stereotype. Were I to leave the burden on the recipient to filter, that act would be an active decision that respected the inherent multidimensionality of identity. Do those who comment on the personal texture of their lives receive fewer snarky replies?

However, given the voyeuristic nature of our species (see reality TV), I'm not ready to rely on sheer disinterest of unrelated parties to encourage them to filter or ignore my personal information. Besides, wonderful personal stories require a context-rich community for proper interpretation and lose their value as “inside” information when shared publicly.

Valerie Yakich said...

Just realizing I actually missed the point! Noob inexperience. If online public connections become strong enough, they gain their own context.

Anonymous said...

hmm... attractive thoughts

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