A few days ago, I added a real-life friend of mine to my friends list of my Flickr account - my latest obsession. I had left a comment on a photo of hers, though I wasn't sure she knew that it was me. My screen name is not my real-life name. I have also been commenting lately on her blogs, using this identity. It occurred to me that she probably didn't know me by either alias, so I emailed her to let her know who was behind the curtain.
Several weeks ago, I mentioned this blog, and that I use a pseudonym, to a friend of mine and he joked that Internet anonymity was passe.
This has gotten me thinking lately about why I use pseudonyms online. To begin with, I use my real name online more often than not. But I have various aliases that I use as usernames in forums or on a few networks here and there. The problem with "various aliases" is that I rarely use the same one twice - I really like making up names - so sometimes I forget which alter ego I am, where. When I began this blog, though, I decided I not only wanted to use a pseudonym, I wanted to keep personal details of my life vague as well.
This isn't uncommon. What's probably less common is how vague I am about where I live, and where I used to live. Though the casual reader could probably do some quick math after just a few posts to figure out where I live and the stalker could probably do some higher math to trace the wagon trail that led me here. But he'd probably trace me some other way, anyway.
I guess that's why I'm most protective of my identity on my blog. I don't care if you know who I am on MySpace or LinkedIn, and my Flickr veil is pretty thin. But my blog - this blog anyway - is a space I created for myself for two reasons: 1) to get myself writing on a regular or semi-regular basis; writing about anything that came to mind at all and 2) to think out loud on stuff that I don't always articulate well, or feel safe articulating in public. (Though, lately I've delved no deeper than "it turns out I really do love Grandma.") It's also, of course, part journal. I could achieve both those goals under my real identity, but that would open up an entirely different can of worms.
Could I really bitch about work or family or explore an unpopular/uncommon opinion or viewpoint without annoying - or serious - consequences? A friend of mine's colleague lost her job because she bitched about work on her blog, using her real identity. One of my best childhood friends is a writer and popular political blogger who lives very publicly online. A couple of years ago, she had our high school alumni site remove her contact information; turned out she was getting death threats. One wack job actually mailed her a turd! Granted, I'm sure there are legal loopholes and protections against job-loss for personal blogs and I've never, to my knowledge, posted my contact info online, but who wants the hassle of all that? And I can't just use my first name. There are too few people out there with my name. According to nameplayground.com, my name - or rather, the shortened version, I typically go by - peaked in popularity in 1892 at #818 in the top 1,000 popular female names. Do any search engine hunt on even my first name, and you'll find me in the first page of hits. I need a cloaking device way more than a Jennifer Smith or a Melissa Douglas or a Francine Webb.
But even if my name were as common as Michelle or Amy, or whatever people were naming their babies in the 70s, I would still - at least for this blog - use an alias. As one who has always had a bent for performance, costumes and alternate identities have always appealed to me. For instance, I always post wearing a set of fairy wings and a cowboy hat. It's just something I do. (Don't judge ... unless you're in the 9th Circuit court of appeals.) If I decide to ever start a blog about some specific topic or which focuses on promoting a personal venture, sure, I'll use my real identity. But until then, I'll happily type as Molly Malone, revealing myself to those real-life readers as I go. ... who I've probably "revealed" myself to anyway. You're welcome, real people!