Thursday, May 22, 2008

Why-nonymous?

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!

6 comments:

Darla D said...

I know where you live.

:-)

Teeheehee.

Pearl said...

Well, I have a very common name (incidentally the same as a character in a popular drama series) and I'm still anonymous. Thanks to a highly efficient departmental secretary, I pop up very high on Google lists, and I don't really want anyone who knows me in my academic life to read about me fancying my students or wittering about my weight. And you're right, there is something fun about being anonymous!

mommanator said...

it's ok to be anon- those folk who really know me wouldn't have time to send turds in the mail! How crazy is that! People need to get real lives for goodness sake!

Molly Malone said...

darla,
i know you know where i live. don't think i haven't figured out where the piles of stinky socks left on my doorstep each wednesday are coming from. you'll get yours!

Virginia Gal said...

I know the name of your dog (insert maniacal laugh).

JoeinVegas said...

Wait a minute - you do wings AND a hat? Next thing you'll tell us is that you wear the cowboy boots too. (you only need one or the other, both not required)