-- Cartoon from the New Yorker, July 1993
"Facebook makes cyberspace more like the real world: dull but civilized. The masked-ball period of the Internet is ending. Where people once led double lives, real and virtual, now they lead single ones again."
Time magazine, Dec. 15, 2010
-- "Person of the Year 2010: Mark Zuckerberg"
The turn of the year is a traditional opportunity for introspection, taking stock, looking back and looking forward. In this medium, I tend toward what I call "bloggy navel-gazing" -- reflections on what this Elvis Sightings enterprise means for me (and about me) as Joy's mother, JoyMama. Of course the blog is framed around Joy herself, but she's not the one with the words to speak for herself. Someday, someday! but till then, I'm afraid that most of what you're getting here is me.
The other evening JoyDad and I had a holiday date-night, dinner and a movie thanks to the babysitting team of Grandma Joy and GrandpaJ. Our movie of choice was The Social Network, a fictionalized account of the founding of the wildly-popular online social-network known as Facebook. Well-paced show, zingy dialog, compellingly plotted, the two hours flew by! The lead character, Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder and billionaire CEO of Facebook, was a geeky Harvard undergrad when he launched the first version of Facebook in 2003. While Facebook was a student-members-only operation for its first three years, in 2006 it expanded to anyone over the age of 13. Facebook now boasts over 500 million users worldwide, most of us under our "real names" -- because much of the point for Facebook users is that you want your friends and acquaintances to be able to find you.
The movie took as its frame the real-life legal battles over Facebook's origins, but played very fast-and-loose with Zuckerberg's character. To hear the movie tell it, the core motivation for the creation of Facebook had to do with Zuckerberg's inability to hold onto a certain girlfriend (or any other friends), as well as a desire to belong to Harvard's exclusive social circle. According to the Time article, however, Zuckerberg is still together with his Harvard girlfriend, and has devoted friends as well as a strong family, and founded Facebook because it was just such a cool thing to do!
The dance between real-name identity and pseudonymous identity has been of interest to me since I first started Elvis Sightings under the pseudonym JoyMama. At the time, I'd say that maybe half the autism-parent blogs I followed were under pseudonyms. About a year ago, there was even a cluster of three or so blogs that had started out with real-names and then made a retroactive switch to pseudonyms.
But lately it feels like there's a trend toward blogging under real-names. The new bloggers I've been adding to my list are predominantly real-name bloggers. I'm also one of very-very few contributors to The Thinking Person's Guide to Autism to contribute under a pseudonym.
I'm mostly happy with staying pseudonymous. For Joy's protection and my own, I don't want my real name to be too easy to connect to the blog, particularly since it's an unusual enough name that pretty much all the Google hits on it are really me -- and I've been leaving trace-able real-name trails online since about the time of that New Yorker cartoon. (Unlike a fellow I once met who shares a name with a world-famous Olympic athlete, who commented that he could post anything he wanted under his real name because it gets buried under famous search results!) But many of you knew my real name before you visited this blog, and I've shared it with others who have become bloggy friends.
Here's where I think the dance gets interesting. In general, I think that people tend to equate online anonymity with inauthenticity. After all, on the Internet nobody knows you're a dog! You can create any identity you want for yourself under a pseudonym -- or say awful things without having to own the consequences in real life, if so you choose.
On the other hand, face-to-face communication isn't free of identity-creation either. We make choices all the time about which of our thoughts we want to share, how we want to present ourselves, what face we want to show the world. And, as a recurring pseudonymous presence, JoyMama has to own what is said on Elvis Sightings and in comments on other blogs. I can't hit-and-run under my established pseudonym, not that I'd want to!
JoyMama is me. My reflections here have a great deal to do with my identity, even if they don't have my real name directly attached. In fact, readers can learn a lot more about the real me on this blog than through occasional casual face-to-face encounters -- or, for that matter, than by reading my real-name Facebook status updates. I wonder if that's maybe the best of both worlds: the protection (and fun!) of the masked-ball that the Internet can be, yet also the authenticity of a real-person identity, firmly attached to the pseudonym.
That identity is not a static entity. Joy is a work-in-progress, JoyMama is a work-in-progress, so are Rose and JoyDad... and all of you. I expect Joy and myself to be life-long learners, and I'm looking forward to blogging about what we learn in 2011.
If you'd like to get updates on our ongoing Elvis Sightings evolution via Facebook, you can click on the "Like" button in the right-hand sidebar. Be advised, though: it won't help you figure out my real name, but it will (probably) give me yours!
Happy New Year!