Michelle asks: What Kind of Online Superhero Are You?
The easiest way to think of this is through superheroes, of course. In many comics such as Superman, Spiderman, and Batman, the protagonist has double life. The characters seem to cherish both roles-the closeness of relationships with others in the standard life and the power and responsibility of the superhero life. In other comics such as X Men, the hero and the person are the same. Wolverine, although sometimes escaping into solitude as Logan, is always a Mutant. Jean Grey is always Jean Grey and Storm is always Storm. There is no separation of character and alter ego here.
Do you use the internet world to escape or improve your current life? Do you have a deadbeat job and use it as an outlet for your talent? Or do you use it to show what you do on a day to day basis, with no need to escape your current situation? Which superhero are you when you are online?
I was told that Coturnix is just like real me in real life. I am online everywhere under my own name AND my handle. But then, my job is to be online 24/7 and promote myself in order to be able to promote the brand.
Others have very different personalities online and offline. They surprise you when you finally meet them in person. They even nurture that well-known difference, e.g., PZ Myers who is fiery online and very quiet and shy in person.
Then, some have two personalities even online. Perhaps they write under their own names on a personal blog where they post the pictures of kids so grandma can see them, and at the same time blogging pseudonymously on a political blog. And trying really hard to make sure nobody connects the dots.
But really, why shouldn't passionate online advocates also be gentle family people and parents? Humans are not so one-dimensional.
A lot of nervousness about pseudonymity comes from the clash of cultures ("generations" in terms of worldview and technical modernity, not age) - how will one's online presence affect one's personal or professional life?
But in a couple of decades, this clash of cultures will be gone. The people hiring will be of the Facebook generation themselves. Seeing drunken party pictures on Facebook profiles of potential employees will be perfectly OK as that is what everyone has. No big deal. Actually, people who have no drunken party pictures online will be suspect - what are they hiding; why are they hyper-managing their online presence so much? That would be a red flag!
If you are not online, you do not exist. But if you are online, you have to manage your online persona. Don't let others do it for you, because that may hurt you. Do what you need to do to make sure that the drunken party pictures are there, but only in the second 100 hits on Google, not right at the top. Make sure that what Google brings about you first is your best stuff and your best face. But don't worry about the mere and inevitable presence of bad stuff (e.g., someone smearing you in a blog post) - it will be OK in the near future.
So, are you Superman or Wolverine?
Actually, people who have no drunken party pictures online will be suspect - what are they hiding; why are they hyper-managing their online presence so much? That would be a red flag!
If that scenario would be an excuse to distrust an individual, or to suspect someone of hypermanaging an online persona, then I sincerely hope I'm dead before it comes to pass. Some of us just don't get drunk at parties, and rarely, if ever, drink to excess outside (or inside, for that matter) our own homes. If there's a history of alcoholism in one's family, one might be reluctant to overindulge.
"Minor in possession of alcohol" charges are pretty common these days, and usually not held against applicants, but what about photos or records of illegal substance use? Many of us experimented with such things, whether it was a good idea or not, and I think photos of such would be pretty damning, even in the (hopefully) hypothetical Facebook Future.
IRL I'm a person who wears her heart on her sleeve, and my online persona (if I have one) is perhaps just a little more snarky. I don't have much of a filter between what I think and feel, and what I express, especially if I decide that something is unjust. Not much significant difference between meatspace and cyberspace personas, and certainly no superheroes.
It's just a red flag. You investigate and see that the person really isn't a party drinker. It's not an automatic disqualification. And there are things "over the line" (or illegal) that should not be online at all - try to avoid if you can.
Well, perhaps it's just an online counterpart of real-life assumptions. For example, when I was interviewing for faculty positions, a colleague told me to always have a glass of wine or a cocktail at dinner. "If you don't drink any alcohol," said she, "they'll think you're an alcoholic, or a Mormon."
On the other hand, I don't know that people always think through the possible consequences of posting questionable photos online, of themselves, or of others. Almost every male in a Mardi Gras krewe in New Orleans has a camera of some sort, and you can imagine what types of photos they take from the floats. Same goes for people on balconies in the French Quarter. Most of the photographed will remain anonymous (especially if the face isn't in the photo), but it's not unrealistic to think that there will be sophisticated identification methods that will change this in the near future. Perhaps it's a bit paranoid to think this way, but then the degree of surveillance and intrusiveness into private lives has changed dramatically in my lifetime. Much more so than I would have imagined.
I just hope that, in the future, we will be free to choose the level of our engagement with the internet, as we are now (for the most part). I love reading several of the science blogs, and I've learned a lot from blogs on knitting and on food. I love Open Access, and the ease with which I can download journal articles and organize them with Papers. But I don't want to feel coerced into participating in things like Facebook or Twitter, and I resent it when friends try to force me to use text-messaging or to buy a Blackberry or iPhone. Perhaps I'm destined for grumpy old Luddite crone-dom.
With a bit of hesitancy, I'm primarily a Wolverine... or at least a mutant. Sometimes I wish I was a Superman.
I think that, for anyone who's struggled in a major way with whether their default identity is "acceptable" or not, this isn't just an online/offline dilemia.
Promoting my art was the initial impetus for putting myself out there and online. I've been gaining a much stronger feel of community than I ever expected, as well as at a least a surface education in more topics than I'd ever realised I'd be interested in.
So sure, I'm a Wolverine, tearing my way through blogs and leaving a messy trail (of paintings) in my wake.