Hiding behind my own face

One of the oddest aspects of the failfresno situation was the accusation that I was somehow being disingenuous by discussing things on Twitter but “saying nothing in public.” The accusation came at me first via the failfresno account and then via the personal account of one of the guys behind failfresno. I wrote a 2,500 word essay detailing the complete context, but decided it would be counterproductive to post. Still, there are some interesting issues that I wanted to address in this abbreviated post.

It turns out I actually knew the guy. Not the one who doesn’t live here, but the other one. The one who does live here. He’s a friend of friends. We’ve never hung out together or had a conversation, but we’ve been introduced and have shaken each other’s hand, probably. But that’s the extent of our physical interaction. We’ve spent literally less than 5 minutes, total, in the same vicinity. So I was confused when he complained that I was “timid outside of Twitter”—implying some sort of duplicity on my part—because there was simply no way for him to know what I did or didn’t say anywhere elsewhere.

I’ve spent too much time trying to piece together why he would see things this way, what the exact misunderstanding was. In the end, there’s not much use trying to figure out what was going on behind the eyes on this one. What’s more interesting to me is the assumption that there is a dichotomy to be drawn between who I am on Twitter and who I am anywhere else.

His complaint seems to betray a kind of 1998 view of the Internet as an exclusive domain of ubergeeks and MMORPG addicts—people who lose themselves in the web. It shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how most of the world works in this Internet age, and I don’t think he’s the only one who sees things this way.

In the past, there was a stark differentiation between Internet Life and Real Life. The Internet was a hobby, a curiosity. In the early years, “social web” meant meeting and cultivating friendships with cyber pals you’d never seen or met (and probably never would). But now social web is built on friends you already have and staying in contact with them. The web now augments real life, and vice versa. Facebook, et al, is more about communication than it is about exploration. Sure, new friends and colleagues may first encounter one another online, but this isn’t some totally separate world.

The days of hiding behind obtuse screenn4mes and avatars with pictures of Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft Tomb Raider are done (except for some emotionally stunted individuals, like YouTube commenters). It’s just not how things operate anymore. In 2010, the fact that social transactions occur online renders them neither anonymous nor innocuous. It’s a necessity of living and working in the modern age, and it’s only going to become more necessary.

For most young adults, including myself, there is no transition between Internet life and real life. It’s all life. Yes, perhaps I take an extra moment to compose a thought into a 140-character online update rather than stuttering through it in face-to-face conversation. But the thought communicated is the same.

The idea that I’m deceiving anyone though some “online-only” persona is ludicrous. I prominently display my real name. My phone number and email address are readily accessible. For criminy’s sake, my giant ridiculous face is rubber-stamped next to everything I publish online. If I’m somehow hiding behind a detached, unaccountable online persona, I’m not doing a great job.

Whether we like it or not, who we are online is, unavoidably, who we are. If you doubt it, try explaining to your boss why that Facebook picture of you urinating in his coffee cup shouldn’t be a problem because that’s just your online self.