Who are we? Are we who we say we are, or are we who others believe we are? Okay, not exactly "to be or not to be," but this really is the question.
I'm having a bit of identity disconnect at the moment. I'd like to blame the economy. I'd like to blame my innate need to knock virtual wood. I'd like to blame a lot of things.
But the truth is, I find myself in a bit of a quandary on this point. It's amusing and bemusing in many ways.
It all starts *counts on fingers* 17 years ago or so. Back in the day I was a newspaper reporter, but I was fascinated with this whole Usenet thing. (Yes, Virginia, there was a time before the Web.) I wanted to dip my toe in the online world, in large part because I was (and still am) positively fascinated by how people in other parts of the world lived and thought.
I also figured that it would be just my luck that someone who actually knew me would catch me when I was having a bad online day and I'd find myself up shit creek without a paddle.
The answer to me seemed obvious: use a fake name.
And behold, one Lizbeth Marcs was born.
I think my ev0l plan was commonsense, although it's turning out to be kind of prescient in a way. As I've discovered to my vast amusement, the Internet really never forgets anything. It's kind of amazing to trace my footsteps going back that many years on Google. It really is.
And if there's instances where ol' Lizbeth may have been a bit of a bitch, so what? She was exactly as real as I wanted her to be.
Except now we're living in the age of Catch-22. Prospective employers and other random people you come across in real life will Google your name. If nothing shows up under your RL name, they'll back away slowly because, well, something doesn't look right there does it?
You're equally in as much trouble if they Google your name and embarrassing crap comes up. Jobs could be lost, job offers rescinded, loans turned down...in short, your life could be made somewhat more difficult without you even knowing it.
To plant a flag on the virtual frontier under your real name or not, that is an interesting question with no good answer at all.
It isn't like I'm planning to leave my job (in fact, I love my job), and my company seems to be riding the economic suck fairly well (knock wood), but you never know.
What if one day I show up and the doors are locked? Or I find myself looking for a job because the company will be closing in the near future?
Every single job Web site tells you: Make sure you have a RL profile somewhere on the Internet under your own name, if only so prospective employers (and loan officers, and other official-type people who can make your life difficult) will find some proof that you know how to deal with the Web and interacting electronically.
This has special urgency for me because, believe it or not, my name is rare. As in really rare. There's only 2 other people with my RL name on the Internet. One's a high school student in the Midwest. The other person is a bit of a...well, let's just say I really don't want to be confused with her.
So, in the modern equivalent of magical thinking ("If I do this, I'll never really need it..."), I've planted a flag under my RL name via LinkedIn and Facebook.
As for Twitter, I'm still not sure how I feel about it. And even if I do plant a flag there, I'm not sure which name I'll use.
To say I'm uncomfortable with this situation doesn't even begin to cover it.
The fact is, in many ways Lizbeth Marcs, this identity right here, is just as real as my RL identity.
Maybe it comes down to this: Lizbeth Marcs is just a name, but the person behind it is the same person whatever name they go by.
But there's still this mental disconnect, in large part because I have to keep my RL identity and Lizbeth Marcs completely walled off from each other. It doesn't help that this little voice in my head keeps squeaking, "Don't let the wank streams cross! Don't let them cross!"
And if they cross, BOOM! Big BOOM! One has too much history, the other is a blank slate.
In a way, it's rather interesting.
I've been active in the online world for 17 years in one form or another. Lizbeth Marcs has connections going back 17 years, so planting a flag at a new online outpost isn't all that big of a deal. There'll always be familiar names somewhere in the mix. It's like being a citizen of Internet who has virtual neighbors and friends.
But my RL name is a total neophyte. She only knows a handful of people online. She's starting from the ground floor. And maaaaaaan, it is not easy. Planting the flag is the easy part. Pinging potential virtual neighbors and waiting for a response is hard.
It's not easy being a newbie while being an old hand at the same time, especially when you can't ever let the two identities interact or even share information.
I guess I'm one of those people who'll never need to dip a toe into SecondLife. As it turns out, I'm living it for reals.