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.