Online MPD… some thoughts on anonymity…

I responded to a post on The History Enthusiast‘s blog, dealing with her almost being "outed" as a blogger in class, which led her to write a rather lengthy reply post.

I started to write a comment in reply, but realized that mine had turned into a rather lengthy reply post as well, so here it is:

I struggle with some of the same issues, balancing the desire for privacy and a place to vent with my desire to make this blog as transparent as possible. I want privacy, and I want publicity– or at least I want hits. I want comments. I want readership and feedback.

My solution thus far has been to establish two (or more accurately, several) online "selves." One that’s pretty public and not too personal, and the other that’s small, secretive, much more personal, and highly screened. That latter "self" (on a friends-only LiveJournal account) is the one that only a handful of even my friends have access to, and that’s where my personal life, my joys and my angst tend to go. I keep that persona on a tight leash. I don’t connect it to other parts of my more public persona. It’s filtered, it’s under a pseudonym (or pseudonyms) that even my best friends wouldn’t necessarily guess was me.

My more public self is this blog, it’s my del.icio.us account, my flickr account. The places where I let myself be traceable, and try to control a bit more the content. And when it comes to this blog, it’s obviously less personal than the History Enthusiast’s blog, and more purely historical. And I’m sure it has less readership because of that. But I’m constantly thinking about how to strike a balance with that respect.

I think the real advantage of the "two selves principle" that I’m TRYING to make work is that it keeps me in the habit of blogging, either way. It keeps me writing and processing my life in that way, for things that won’t necessarily get turned in to anyone or published anywhere. And it also keeps me on my toes and hyper-conscious of my online profile. I make sure that my public face has a hundred times more Google Juice than my "private persona." It keeps me in the business of managing my online presence, which keeps me mindful, and (I hope) decreases the possibility of having one of those famous incidents where your internet slip is showing at the wrong time.

Personally, I’m doing this for several reasons. One is simply that I’m in a program where maintaining an internet presence is pretty much a requirement. Blogs and electronic journals and projects are some of the highest-profile things coming out of George Mason. So in one way, I’m just riding the wave here. But I also feel that there needs to be greater transparency in academia, and more immediacy.  Academics who blog openly promote these causes.

I think that this new publishing option– because that’s what blogging and the like are– is an exciting new development for academics. It’s almost like a conference that never stops, where there’s panels on any topic you can imagine. Of course there’s still a place for traditional publication and peer review, but this is an opportunity to share your work and get feedback among interested peers before all that– just like a conference, except you don’t have to wait all year to go, and you never get that 8am slot that nobody shows up for.

I’ve worried myself about the possibility of getting "scooped’ by over-sharing, as well, but honestly, I’ve been convinced by people who keep claiming that if anything, blogging increases your public presence, and gives you something to point to if somebody steals your research– you’ve already published it online. I don’t know of anyone who’s done this successfully, yet, but I DO know of several people who’ve been scooped after presenting at a conference. But we keep doing those.

I don’t know. I guess I’ll find out if this experiment is a good one or a foolhardy one in a several years, when I go on the market. But I’m hoping that even if there are some programs out there who won’t want someone who’s been blogging, there might be other programs out there who’ll like the idea of someone who’s been writing to be read– putting themselves out there– as much as possible.

Blogs are usually half-formed, often half-baked, and many are completely thoughtless and narcissistic. They’ve earned their bad name, as much as they’ve been maligned by self-appointed gatekeepers and culture guardians. But they have a lot of potential.

Academics, I feel, would be best served striving to achieve that potential, honestly and openly. When enough people do that, when there’s a critical mass, some of that bias will go away. But I feel that it’s important for people to be open about who they are. Blogging anonymously… there really is a similarity to the closet. You can either "come out," or you have to constantly fear being outed.

And look at Larry Craig… when you get outed after doing stuff in secret for a long, long time, you have a lot more difficult explaining to do.

That said, I intend to hold onto my secret "other personas" as long as possible, ’cause there’s certain parts of all our lives that we’d rather keep on the DL.

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8 Responses to Online MPD… some thoughts on anonymity…

  1. Ah, so you have a private blog as well! I think that would definitely help matters in my situation, but sometimes I worry that I don’t have enough juice to post regularly on three blogs (I have another anonymous one that I just started up with a friend, that is not linked to my history blog…we are really on the down low). If I thought I could come up with a cool persona for my personal blog, I might consider it, but for the moment, I am too wedded to this persona. Anyway, I have enjoyed our conversation and hope other’s will join in the fray!

  2. Ah, so you have a private blog as well! I think that would definitely help matters in my situation, but sometimes I worry that I don’t have enough juice to post regularly on three blogs (I have another anonymous one that I just started up with a friend, that is not linked to my history blog…we are really on the down low). If I thought I could come up with a cool persona for my personal blog, I might consider it, but for the moment, I am too wedded to this persona. Anyway, I have enjoyed our conversation and hope other’s will join in the fray!

  3. P.S. I thought I should mention that the blog that almost got “outed” was a course blog, and it will eventually be outed. So, I guess my “real” persona is out there, even though that blog has a different purpose. If you want, I can send you the link to that one so you can give me feedback. In the past I have considered using that blogging platform for my “real persona” blog since I already have the account and whatnot. Anyway, all you George Mason peeps are great at this kind of thing, so I’d love to hear your thoughts!

  4. P.S. I thought I should mention that the blog that almost got “outed” was a course blog, and it will eventually be outed. So, I guess my “real” persona is out there, even though that blog has a different purpose. If you want, I can send you the link to that one so you can give me feedback. In the past I have considered using that blogging platform for my “real persona” blog since I already have the account and whatnot. Anyway, all you George Mason peeps are great at this kind of thing, so I’d love to hear your thoughts!

  5. Tad says:

    I’d love to look at any class blog project– I’m actually planning on doing a practicum class next semester or the semester after that dealing specifically with that– an internet pedagogy practicum…

  6. Tad says:

    I’d love to look at any class blog project– I’m actually planning on doing a practicum class next semester or the semester after that dealing specifically with that– an internet pedagogy practicum…

  7. Pingback: The Leisurely Historian… » Blog Archive » The Great LJ Strike of 2008(?)

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