Are you "real" online?

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.


Nanc Twop said...

The self that is revealed in one area is not deeper or more authentic than a self revealed in another

That makes sense to me. I think I'm just one pie wedge (of my normal full-pie self) when I'm online. No facial or verbal clues, and no immediate feedback. But I do hope I'm relatively 'real' anyway.

Unknown said...

Such an interesting post. My feelings about my "online persona" are mixed up in my feelings about being a writer. I blog under my real name and my family and friends read my blog so I think of myself as pretty authentic online. BUT that's not all there is to it.

I only say online and in writing what I'd scream at the top of my lungs in a public square: I find being a mom of two in diapers hard, I am ambivalent about work and worried about money. But the other stuff, the stuff that people would find boring, stupid or annoying (or, more accurately, the things that I THINK people would receive as such) I keep to myself. I wouldn't walk into the town square and say, "I think my thighs look ucky and sometimes I get gassy if I drink too much beer," so I don't say it online unless I can put it in an sufficiently facetious context.

Admittedly this means that my authenticity is screened through the context of what others find interesting and THAT'S a pretty fine screen, but I think what comes out the other end is still authentic. Just limited.

sarah at secret housewife said...

An interesting post.I write under a pseudonym, but the subjects I write about are very honestly written.I do find, though, that I am very careful about the info I give - no names, no locations. I hadn't really thought about this topic before, but it is really interesting. I sometimes hold back in case someone I actually know reads something I write.I would never write about my job or the people I work with, just in case.

Casey Freeland said...

Great points! I love this post. I am often asking myself about the motivations, methods and realities that may or may not exist in this online world. Great!



Caffeinated Weka said...

Very interesting. I engage online via my self-created persona, Café Chick, who is a part of the 'real' me but not all of who I am. (Actually, she's lots of fun to be - the real me is less so.) Security and safety is a big reason for Café Chick, so is the ability to separate my personal and work posts (which can be found under my real name). I am very careful in all my writing to not mention names or include identifying photos or details. I also know that my partner reads (almost) everything I write as Café Chick, but I have nothing to hide there. :-)

In RL, I am an online advisor so found the article you linked to very interesting. I am going to unpack it further later and process it in terms of how it relates to the work I do. However, at first glance, it sums up my online life to a T!

Happy Frog and I said...

Hi Juli, I found this post very interesting and kept finding myself nodding along as I was reading it. I have my reasons for being an anonymous blogger, but I don't know if that makes me less authentic online then if I used my real name. Perhaps the perceptions of who I am by my readers are different.

CiCi said...

It takes too much energy to try to be one for some people and another way for other people. I just am what I am, online, in person, in letters, video chat, or whatever. I think you are too.

Jack said...

The long time reader of my blog(s) know an awful lot about me, probably far more than they realize.

They know many stories, thoughts and ideas that the folks in the real world might not.

But they don't know everything. There are things that you just cannot know without spending time with me in person

The audio and video posts provide a few more details, but not much. I have a deep voice, so did Barry White but I am not dead.

But I think that enough of ourselves can come through for us to develop real life friendships.

So even if we don't know all, we know enough to gain a sense of who we are interacting with.

Sweet Jane said...

When I go away from my online persona, I go away from all the ones I follow too. So I've missed you.

I didn't mean to be so easily found, but if you google my name - the first thing that comes up is my blog. Starred. Yuck. And my best thinking was to stop writing, but not take it down.

Now I"m thinking of trying to walk the authentic but not overshare again. It's tricky. But I very much appreciate your thoughts.

Jesse said...

Great post. Lovely observation at the end. Personally I am much more reclusive in real life, or what I like to call "the walking world," and online I seem to be more assertive. I think people with rich social lives are probably spent after a day of asserting themselves in the walking world to be so adhesive online.

Alexandra said...

I am so sorry for all you have to deal with now.

It is very difficult: moving, time away from 5, doing things on your own.

I'm sure a lot of people stay in a marriage, b/c it's so much harder to raise a family on their own.

I know from your posts, you strike me as someone who thinks a long time before making a decision.

This must be the right one for all of you.

Thinking of you.