Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year's Reflections: Identity

"On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog."
-- 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!


K- floortime lite mama said...

Happy new year fabulous Joy Mama
I have blended everything too
The only different thing about me in real life versus online is that in real life i have a somewhat vulgar sense of humor
Whereas I think I come across as slightly goodygoodygumdrops in real life

Big Daddy Autism said...

Believe it or not, Big Daddy is not my given name! I agree with everything you wrote. I do not, in any way, begrudge those who use their real names, however, for me, anonymity was the way. That does not change the fact that everything I write about comes directly from my real life and is 100% genuinely me and my family. Happy and healthy.

JoyMama said...

K - the fun thing about having a reputation for prim-and-proper is that then when you let loose with something off-color, it has a MUCH bigger impact! (Not that I'd know, or anything...)

Big Daddy - I almost linked in the post to the lively discussion on your blog under Lynn's guest post, about real-name vs. pseudonymous parent-blogging. So here's that link, if anyone wants to check it out! I believe there's some insinuation that your real name isn't one that you'd have chosen for yourself?! Big Daddy works well though. Memorable, descriptive, indicative of your New Year's Resolutions!

Anonymous said...

K - you, vulgar?

Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg said...

This is such a personal decision. While I have to admit that I'm terribly curious about who people "really" are, it makes complete sense to me that people whose blogs are mainly about their children would blog anonymously. It's not that people have to, but I can understand why they might feel sensitive about sharing personal things about their children under their own names. When my NT daughter was small (many years ago now), I was quite careful about what I shared about her on the internet. I didn't feel that she had the understanding of privacy issues to give informed consent to my ramblings, so I decided to err on the side of caution.

When I started blogging a little over two years ago, I decided to blog under my real name, but that had to do with the fact that I blog mainly about myself and not about my daughter. Blogging was a "coming-out-as-autistic-and-standing-behind-my-words" sort of thing, so using my real name was very empowering. Plus, my daughter was about 16 when I started my blog, and being a teenager, didn't enter into as many of my stories and conundrums as she might have when she was a young child. When I do blog about what she does, I'm quite careful to concentrate on things that are not terribly personal--her soccer games, her class trips, things like that. If I want to talk about something a little closer to home, I ask her. So far, she's given me the green light on all my ideas (and she's even brought a copy of my book to donate to her school library!), but if she told me not to post about something, I wouldn't.

JoyMama said...

TherExtras - I'm just looking now at the "Choose an identity" set of options under this comment box as I type -- "vulgar / off-color" isn't a listed option on this family-oriented blog, but maybe more of us have some faint leanings toward that aspect of our identity than we let on?

Rachel - your choice of real-name blogging makes a lot of sense to me too. With Joy, there's so much to which she can't give informed consent. Maybe one day she'll disagree with the choices I've made, but at least I haven't made her name searchable via mine! I think my blogging does benefit her in a number of ways -- I use the blog to clarify my thoughts (and the reality of an audience is a much better motivator for me than journaling for myself has ever been), and I also have gotten some wonderful insights from the comments. With Rose, now almost 9 years old, I have started asking her approval before blogging certain things. Growing up so fast, sigh.

Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg said...

Until I discovered blogging, I was of two minds about the usefulness of the internet. It always seemed like a good way to connect with people of simliar interests, but it also seems like a serious time-pit. Since getting involved with others doing autism blogging, I'm absolutely amazed at how much it helps us overcome isolation, get fresh ideas, and gather advice. Properly used, it's a great boon to all of us.

Your daughter undoubtedly benefits from what you're doing. Keep on going, JoyMama! :-)

Anonymous said...

I have no issue with anyone using pseudonyms on their personal blog. I have called-out a couple of so-called 'experts' who opine and sell said opin-ations without so much as a photo next to their 'years of experience with children'.

My first comment was a little on the weird side, sorry. I'm not sure what you meant by your response, JM - help an old lady out and 'splain, please.

JoyMama said...

Rachel - actually, both of your pre-blogging perceptions of the Internet still resonate with me -- good way to connect, but serious time pit. I revel in the former, and struggle with the latter.

TherExtras - let's see. OK, I was referring to the thought that both K and I (and probably other bloggy-folks) are somewhat more prim-n-proper on our blogs than in real life. The other part of the response refers to when you "leave your comment" and below the entry-box you can "Choose an identity".

I did not mean to imply any leanings toward hidden vulgarity on your part! :-)

Anonymous said...

Thanks, JoyMama - I needed 'straightening' on that. I am convinced of your and K's prim-properness images online. I cannot associate the word 'vulgar' either of you.

heh. "Choose an identity" is rather interesting when you think about it. I also believe you are always straightforward in your political leanings (not trying to show a different leaning). (I know, Uncle Marathon made that accusation on the next post.)

BratK (Barbara-run-at-the-Keyboard, my privileged nickname/identity here on ES)

Kelly said...

I understand this from both sides and have gone back and forth a number of times.
When I started blogging it was just for a handful of family members that wanted more than just our annual holiday update. It never occurred to me then to not use real names. I've switched to pseudonyms, switched back, switched to nicknames and switched back to real names again. In the end I decided it's my blog, about my life and really if someone cares enough to figure out my identity it's easy enough to do it and I have no problem just having it out there.
The only problem I see with you being JoyMama is that if we ever meet in real life, I'll have a hard time calling you anything other than JoyMama :-)

JoyMama said...

Kelly - I think you win the prize for number of decision-reversals on this issue! :-)

I'll answer to JoyMama. My real-last-name gives people enough trouble that I usually tell folks "I'll answer to anything close!"

Liz Ditz said...

JoyMama, I've never thought of you as "anonymous" -- you have a clear & shining identity -- it's just not linked to the name on your driver's license.

Before I started blogging, back in the olden days, I thought long & hard about using my real name vs. a pseudonym or nom de blog. I finally decided to use my real name (even though my surname is unusual, and there are only 4 other of us E Ditzes in the US) because my children had a different surname.

I've sometimes regretted it, but mostly not.

But I don't think ill of folk who do use "blog handles". I guess I assume they have good reasons -- like their family privacy -- to do so.

JoyMama said...

Liz - what a lovely compliment! Thanks so much!

I remember you had a post not too long ago drawing distinctions between anonymous and pseudonymous writers, though I can't remember off the top of my head which issue it dealt with -- the "I am Bonnie Offit" kerfluffle, perhaps?