More thoughts and questions about pseudonyms and blogs

Been an interesting day around here. As I mentioned earlier, I have found myself in the midst of a “discussion” about the use of pseudonyms in blog authorship, something I kind of feel like I stumbled into with a sidebar comment about the blog where I found the article I was discussing– see this to see what I mean. And boy (and girl), let me tell ya: if there’s one thing I know now from all this is that the people who blog under pseudonyms take this stuff seriously.

Two thoughts and then a thought with some questions:

Thought #1: I don’t know if I want to say that I’ve “seen the light” or not, but the discussion here and elsewhere has been educational in that I can see some of the reasons why folks might want to blog anonymously and/or under pseudonyms. Clearly, most the people who do this are women in “real life,” and they point to reasons why it’s important for them to preserve their privacy. I can’t critique that. Some of the folks who blog anonymously say they do so because of the unpleasant work situations they find themselves in, something I can relate to (my first academic job was less than ideal), but that isn’t the case for me now. As much as I complain about EMU, I know that on the whole, it’s a good place to work.

Now personally, I’m not sure I would blog about EMU or anything else if I felt like I might get canned or “in trouble” for what I might say, anonymous or not. But that’s a slightly different issue…

And hey, let’s face it, using a pseudonym is fun. I guess I was trying to be cute with my last post on this, but it really is like putting on a costume, isn’t it? By day, I’m a mild-mannered academic named Steven D. Krause; by night, I’m a blogger named Batman! Has a ring to it, right?

Thought #2: I think part of my “problem” here is the idea of writing under a pseudonym is so unappealing to me. I would never write scholarly things under a pseudonym, and I would only write fiction under a pseudonym if I was absolutely forced to do so. (This kind of happened to an old friend of mine. He published a couple of science fiction novels under his real name, and when they didn’t sell that well, his new publisher said he’d have to switch names).

Why wouldn’t I write under a pseudonym? Part of it is my own desire over “ownership” of my writing. Theoretically, owning your own words is impossible; but at the same time, I want to receive credit from folks who quote and cite me, and I especially want to receive the meager awards that come from academic publishing.

The other part of it is I see my writing as “public” anyway. Except for writing in a private journal (which I do occasionally) or email messages to some close friends, I always write with the a larger and “more public” audience in mind. The idea of writing for a larger and public audience is a part of conventional writing pedagogy nowadays, too. It’s one of the reasons why I would never give students an assignment like “write about a very personal and important event” because assignments like this create situations where students write an essay about something so personal that they are unwilling to share it with classmates and where they are putting me in the position of being a sort of therapist.

Thought #3 (with questions): One of the basic measures for “credibility” and (dare I say it?) “authenticity” on the web has always been authorship. In the (not so) old days, just about everyone dismissed newsgroups as an incredibly non-credible source for information on the ‘net. Why? Because posts were so frequently made anonymously and/or with pseudonyms and because there was absolutely no filtering mechanism out there. I mean, my Lord, anybody could say anything, and you really had no idea who they were!

Now, if I am to believe the folks who advocate for the use of pseudonyms on blogs, it seems the tables have turned. Now, in this medium where literally anyone can create their own “fake” identity and have a blog up and running in minutes, the use of a pseudonym frees the writer completely from the restraints of identity, and this allows her or him to truly speak their mind. By eliminating the person behind the name, the writer can speak about the personal. By using an identity that is intentionally “false,” the writer can speak “the truth.” I’m tempted to say something like “peace” through “war” and “freedom” through “policing,” but you get the idea.

So, the questions I have here:

* When did the tables turn on this idea of “not my real name” equals credibility and authenticity?

* I probably shouldn’t take this same attitude with newsgroup posts or spam messages; but why not?

* Blogs are still in the early stages of being seen as “legitimate” by the academy at large; how does the abundance of anonymous and pseudonym-authored blogs effect this effort at legitimacy?

* Am I to take seriously as credible, academic writers folks who only identify themselves by their pseudonyms, things like “proffgrrrl” or “Dr. Crazy” or “BitchPhD” or “Invisible Adjunct?”

* Does this make sense?

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