In the 1950s, my granny’s dad built a house by the Susquehanna River, south of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. We called it the river house. It had three bedrooms and a large enclosed porch. Under the porch, there was a work shop with a second toilet and a primitive sink. After the remnants of a hurricane, the river once rose and flooded the house.
The river house was near a small town where a famous baseball player was born. The house sat back from an isolated little road, which lay like a pale grey ribbon next to a railway line. Twice a day freight trains rattled past the house.
You couldn’t see the river house from the road. A narrow driveway had been cut through a tall hedge, which threatened to swallow your car before you were released into an open pocket beside the house. In the adjacent garden marigolds grew as big as saucers. A long path led to a picnic shelter surrounded by mature oak trees, and eventually to the Susquehanna River.
The river was two miles wide, and there was an island in the middle of the river. But the cooling towers from the nuclear plant at Three Mile Island still towered over you like sentinels.
Three Mile Island was a name whose syllables ran together like the branches of the river. It often seemed like just one word, like Susquehanna. “Three-Mile-Island.”
Of course, everyone knows about the accident at Three Mile Island. There was a partial meltdown of the reactor core in one of the plant's two units. It happened three years before my first visit to the river house.
When I was at the river house, nobody seemed concerned about another accident, or whether it was safe to be there. Maybe they were worried, and I just didn't know. I was only twelve years old.
I liked to daydream on a bench by the river. Sometimes I could hear whistles from the plant at Three Mile Island. People made eerie announcements over a public address system. There were clouds of white steam that rose from the active towers. I wondered if the steam was filled with radioactive particles.
The towers followed me everywhere. I could see them from the hills above the river valley. At night, the lights on the towers made them seem other-worldly, like spaceships in the movie "Close Encounters of the Third Kind".
It didn’t occur to me that someone might try—try!—to crash into the towers with a airplane, or to block the cooling-water intake pipes in the river. Those thoughts came much later, after the river house was sold, and my granny’s dad passed away.
Thank you for your e-mails after my post on my separation. I had never closed comments before. Maybe it was a mistake. But at the time, I just felt, rightly or wrongly, that I couldn’t bear to have someone “Like” my post (or not “Like” it). And I thought Adam might read it. (And he did. But I will save that story for another post.)
There are two ways in which people think about their online personas. Some people believe their online selves are separate from their “real” selves. They may be anonymous online or use a pseudonym. If you do this, you can be hidden. In some circumstances this can be good. You can tell people as much or as little about yourself as you want.
The online dimension is fictitious, like a dream world. These people often believe that once you turn off your computer, you leave your online persona behind. They set up boundaries between online and “real” life. They confide extremely personal things online, things they would not tell people in “real” life. But they won’t give their phone number to people they meet online.
Other people try to combine their online and offline personas. Last year some bloggers talked a lot about being "authentic" online. I try to be the same person online that I am in "real" life. Maybe you do too. Especially on Facebook, where our online and offline worlds have collided.
But it is nearly impossible to be the same self online as your “real" offline self. Even if you try to be “authentic” online, you still will be different from yourself offline. For example, you may reveal more about yourself online than offline. But there won't be verbal cues to go along with what you have revealed. And why have you repressed these things in "real" life?
Talking to someone on Skype, on the phone, or face-to-face gives you more information about a person’s identity. This doesn’t make one source of information more true than another. Each form of communication reveals some things about a person’s identity, and it hides others. The self that is revealed in one area is not deeper or more authentic than a self revealed in another. This is because there is no one location where you can find the true or real self.
For more about the psychology of being online, please see this excellent article that I found on Twitter via Andrea.