Sunday, May 6, 2007

Our Bloggies, Ourselves

This spring, I am interacting more with the non-academic online world. I started writing a blog, following and commenting on other blogs, and learning about spaces such as Second Life. Not surprisingly, these experiences have me considering online identity, though not entirely in the way I expected.

For a couple of days at the start of my blogging experience, I had two blogs: one personal and one professional. The personal had a quirky (but oh-so-me) title and would cover travelogues and other random journal-type stuff; the professional would have a theme that others might care about if I found interesting things to say. Given that I started blogging to force myself to express more ideas, the professional one was more "real". The personal was largely an escape hatch where I could cheat and still post if I lacked thoughts on the professional theme (it was also an archive for travelogues). It took about 3 days for me to write a post that could live in either blog, resulting in the current merged one.

The merge raised some expected issues about online identity, including the basic question of anonymity. In the spirit of stance taking, I blog under my real name and link the blog to my academic web page. As expected, this has lead to a bit of self-censorship while letting me play with balancing various life roles. While I know many women in academia prefer to blog anonymously, gender was never a substantial factor in my decision. It seemed an issue of safety and risk management; neither concern outweighed my goals for the experience.

Then I read a post reflecting on the (female) author's frustration with a work experience. I wanted to shout out "that's my experience to a T" and share the emotional aspects of the situation. I didn't, though, given my decision to not be anonymous in the blogsphere and a sense that the comment would say more than felt appropriate about my job. I could still comment anonymously, but that's not the point. This is one of the few times I've been conscious of being a woman online. And it arose out from frustration about a style of communicating rather a position of fear (my concern with the comment is appropriateness, not potential retribution).

Communication style is a fundamental part of identity: are we really being ourselves if we suppress it? Obviously, whether to use a particular style is not an all-or-nothing choice, but it wasn't one I expected to encounter so viscerally. At the moment, the question seems to arise from my working in a culture that prides itself on objectivity while being someone who experiences life intensely through subjective reactions. I'm no longer sure what it means to "be myself" online, but I do know it goes far beyond the initial question of how many blogs to maintain.

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