Some identity thoughts from friends and colleagues over the last few days

Honestly, I’m not trying to make folks mad just for the sake of making them mad. I wasn’t going to post anything else about this, but then I rethought it. After all, I’ve been thinking a lot about this whole pseudonym business lately, and I’ve been talking to friends and colleagues about it lately too. And writing down stuff I’m thinking about is one of the points of this blog. So I thought I’d write three thoughts:

Thought #1 I’m not entirely sure if this is “ironic” or not, but the thing that really stops me from speaking too harshly about the problems of pseudonyms and how they relate to identity is I make use of my “real” identity on the web. What I’m getting at is this is a situation where, rhetorically, I cannot possibly be considered credible– well, at least with the folks who embrace a pseudonym– not for what I say but for who I am.

Don’t get me wrong– I’m not lamenting the idea that I can’t be the “judge” or establish the “rules” about how to go about blogging (these are both things I was accused of before). That’s not my concern. I mean something different. Let me put it this way: in order to write an “academic” article about the problems of pseudo-identity on blogs, I would have to acknowledge and account for the fact that I myself actually have a “non-pseudo-identity” (!!) on the web. Like I said, I don’t know if it’s ironic, but it strikes me as kinda weird.

Thought #2 Ultimately, I think the “problem” with pseudo-identity on the web is a lack of accountability in relationship to the real world, especially when a writer’s misrepresentation of identity causes trouble. (And again, let me be clear: I’m not trying to suggest that people who use pseudo-identity are automatically causing trouble.) This one was pointed out to me by a colleague, so let me see if I get this straight: In the story of “Julie,” the man who posed as a “totally disabled” woman who typed with a stick on her forehead (this is recounted in the Stone essay I cite earlier here) claimed that no “real harm” was done because he didn’t do anything in “real life” and his pseudo-identity may have helped people online. On the other hand, in the infamous story of “Mr. Bungle” (as is recounted in the well-known essay by Julian Dibbell essay “A Rape in Cyberspace”), Bungle says that no one was hurt in “real life,” so it doesn’t really matter what harm may have been caused to the people online.

That’s the ol’ “having your cake and eating it too,” a cliché that is synonymous with “unfair.”

Thought #3 A friend of mine reminded me of an episode of the PRI show “This American Life” a few years ago that focused on having powers like a super-hero. One of the segments was about a guy who went around asking people “Which super power would you like to have: invisibility or flight?” According to the blurb on the web site, “how you answer tells a lot about what kind of person you are. And also, no matter which power people choose, they never use it to fight crime.” I think you can see where I’m going with this…

I chose flight.

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