Pay Attention to the Man/Woman Behind the Curtain: Masks and Roles Online


I was on a plane, flying back from the BlogWorld Expo in Las Vegas, when I saw the woman across the aisle from me reading the Sunday comic section. Pondering this week’s theme of Masks and Costumes, I recalled one of my favorite geek comic images published in 1993 by The New Yorker. The image is a single panel drawing with a couple of dogs sitting by a computer. One dog says to the other: “On the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog.”

When I was spending time and energy going on online dating sites, I remember a woman describing herself as having a “slender, athletic” build and often being told she “looked like Jodie Foster.” In reality, either the folks who told her she looked like Jodie Foster were visually impaired or the room was very dark. Her build canted more towards rubenesque than slim.

The question is: Did she lie? Or is that how she perceives herself?

Fast-forward to today. People create a myriad online profiles from Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace to Flickr and YouTube. On each of these sites we are prompted upon sign-up, to create a username, bio, background, likes/dislikes, and links to sites that provide context for who we are.

We live in a world where we can create and recreate ourselves. A world where we can start over with the images we portray and the way people view us.

Or can we?

Any of these sites can be viewed in isolation. More likely, though, is that when someone seeks you out online, the magic of Google or Bing will pull all of your information to one place. Even if there are differences among your profiles, there is a consistent thread – you. It may be a common email address, common links to your blog/web site, the same profile name, or even pieces of your bio. In the end, it’s the aggregate of these places that will create the overarching image of who you are. Just as a diamond has many facets so, too, does each of us.

People are, by nature, varied in how they portray themselves in various environments. I am not proposing that this change. I am suggesting that the roles we play online should no longer be taken in isolation. We may be exposed to wider audiences than we had intended.

I believe this public platform encourages us to be more accountable for what we say and do online. We also have the opportunity to share more of ourselves with others. And ultimately, this transparency will lead to more authentic communication.

About The Author

What began for me as a career telling other people’s stories has evolved into a journey of helping others tell their stories for themselves. I'm a “classically trained” Journalist whose passion for communications began with my first job ripping wire copy in 1982 and has evolved to encompass nearly every platform and aspect of media – from reporting and editing to broadcast management, talent casting and guest booking. I've also curated content for several of the tech industry’s leading conferences. It was after finding myself engaged as an activist for LGBT equal rights that I began to explore the way in which personal stories inform and influence people’s everyday lives and I began using my tech background to teach people to make these connections of personal stories, using new technologies as the medium. Presently I run my own consulting firm in San Francisco, working with companies and individuals helping them navigate the crowded waterways of new technologies with the express purpose of leveraging these rapidly evolving platforms to tell their stories. Through workshops, seminars and strategic consulting services, I walk clients through the story-telling process and towards the kind of deep engagement that comes from truly authentic communication.

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