by Madeline Laughs
What if my entire existence, the very essence of who I am, was contained right here in this electronic box we all seem so enamored with? What if everything I ever said about myself and about my life outside of this box, was all fictional tales I made up in my head and then shared with the world? What if I could be whoever I wanted to be so long as I was logged in and someone was paying attention?
Not long ago this kind of fantasy driven persona would have been impossible. To pull off any kind of believability would take enormous amounts of energy and forethought, not to mention that there would be no such protection as the shiny computer screen to hide behind. But in today’s world being someone you most definitely are not, is as easy as hitting the Enter button on your laptop’s keyboard.
Some people have their own, very legitimate, reasons for wanting some anonymity. This is very different from making up a whole New You. There are doctors and lawyers that like to be able to comment and post without fear of damaging their professional lives should someone vehemently disagree with their point of view. In this case, a false picture and fake history are on the menu. They can have a social networking life of leisure and still practice their craft without fear of repercussion.
Some women online have had some scary episodes, so a pared down version of themselves becomes the safest route to take. Of course, not every woman’s online story begins with a stalker boyfriend that gets thrown in jail. I have learned that sometimes these stories get embellished by ones anxious to play a bigger role in the Why of a friend’s uncredited online profile by feigning an intimacy that exists that’s about as real as the profile in question.
Regardless of who you’d like to be online, there are times when you must let down your guard and open the curtain if you are to ever have a life beyond the lit screen of your laptop. There is a lot to be said about the positivity of real live human interaction. I, for one, am a huge proponent of living my life outside of this electronic box occasionally.
My online presence has always been pretty much exactly who I am in real life. I’m not sure I could ever have a fake existence because I kind of like my life the way it is. If trauma or past experiences are so prevalent in my mind that I have to be someone I’m not, then I would have to assume that in those instances perhaps being online at all is not desirable anymore.
In fact, I have had online stalkers in the past. Some of them have even been female! Can you imagine? Recently several of my accounts were hacked by someone that knows me well enough to guess at my secret questions and they played havoc with my social networking profiles, my personal email and even attempted deactivating my cell phone. And yet, even after that I remain the same name and pictures I’ve always been, which are really me.
Although I may continue to blog under a pseudonym, my real friends know exactly who I am.
Now if being online makes the difference of being alone, or actually having a circle of virtual friends to come home to, then I guess being anonymously exotic is the way to go about having that one outlet of pleasure for yourself. I have seen that this can play into many different personality disorders if left unchecked. So caution and the occasional reality check is probably a very good idea. I must also caution against seeking too much attention from a feeling of neediness. Creating an atmosphere is one thing, but allowing online friends to become embroiled in worry over your safety is something else entirely. There is no reason to hurt anyone just so you can feel better about yourself.
It wasn’t until recently that I discovered that online presences have taken on a whole new dimension. I can’t really call them fake profiles because very real, flesh and blood people manage them, but they are most definitely geared towards an anonymity of sorts. It was my first exposure to someone so guarded about their online activities.
I have my favorites of these online anomalies though. One in particular became a favorite of mine long before I could send out a friend request. I found that I laughed so hard when I was chatting online with this person who had a blank, male-head profile picture and a woman’s name. No one could make me laugh harder than she/he could and I was terribly sad when one afternoon this person suddenly disappeared. I remember asking a few mutual friends where he/she went and no one seemed to know. Just as this incognito person came online and stole my heart, they disappeared with just as much stealth.
About a month later someone else came along with a cartoon picture who was just as funny as my other unrealized friend. I soon realized they were similar in more ways than one after a long chat one afternoon. When it was time for me to return to work I thanked this new shiny person and told them that I had missed chatting with them. I just knew this had to be my friend from before. I was so hoping it was. And I was right.
I get so busy on here sometimes that minor details, like sending friend requests, falls through the cracks. Especially if I already have a venue conveniently set up where I can chat with people I like. I remembered this time to send out that friend request and I have reaped the benefits of knowing my new friend a little better than I did before.
Do I mind that I have no idea what she looks like? I can honestly tell you that it doesn’t bother me in the slightest. When I think of her, I think of her as an explorer of the world, checking everything out thoroughly and making intelligent commentary that I read everyday. She is an amazing writer, well read and extremely intelligent. What more do you need?
She has also proven to be much deeper than I ever thought an anonymous online personality could be. When you read her comments you can almost hear her voice saying them out loud. Of course, I have had the privilege of actually speaking to her on the phone, so I know what she sounds like. She is a real, live person with a real, live life out there.
Do I know for sure that everything she tells me is true? I haven’t given that much thought. She has absolutely no agenda or reason to lie to me unless it is to protect her identity. I already know she is private about that, so those aren’t my concerns. I believe her when she tells me whatever it is we’re sharing at the moment and have no further interest in the subject beyond what we have chatted about in private. She has down to earth gut reactions and usually tells it just as it is without a lot of flowery roundabouts.
I also have several friends from a community that I am deeply involved with and hardly any of them use their real names online. Everyone has what is commonly referred to in our world as Playa Names. I have a couple of those myself; Topher’s Bride is one of them. If you Google that you’ll probably find a Twitter account and a Flickr account. Have fun 🙂
I have had folks warn me about these kinds of online friends. “You never know what they’re up to or what they’re after! You don’t really even know who they are for heaven’s sake!” My response to that in the past has always been “Really? What could I possibly have going on that would interest them in the slightest?”But I would take a step back in wariness from a friend that was not overt about who they were online. The one thing I have never considered is that what I have that they might want is simply, just me.
But now I have a whole new perspective.
You see, there are people online that I thought I did know well in real life, before there was an Internet, and I dearly loved and cherished them as long time friends. What I have found out is that we never really know anything about who they are or what they’re after either. In fact, I wonder now if I knew them at all, or if I just imagined I knew them. Those discoveries hurt more than anything I have experienced from an anonymous friend online so far.
So I will continue to be what my husband calls his perpetual social butterfly. I will always chat with the person in the seat next to me on the airplane. I will ask the desk clerk at the hotel how her day is and really wait for her to answer and I will greet housekeeping in the hallway every morning, even though I never get service during any of my stays. I will openly address the cashier, the waitstaff and the drycleaner with a smile and an invitation to be a real human being with me even if it’s just for 10 seconds out of their full day.
I will treat my life online with the same open and giving nature, but with a bit more caution than in the past. Who knows? I could find myself with an airline ticket to a spot where many online friends live that I have never met. Just think of the lifelong possibilities I’d be passing up if I never took a chance on the human race. It is astounding to me that some folks would prefer to stay indoors and peck away at a keyboard when there’s a whole world out there just waiting to be discovered.
No worries, I’ll keep checking in and updating my status. I’ll keep learning new life lessons and improving like a fine wine…or whine on some days. And I will value each and every connection I make for exactly what it is; a few seconds out of my day that I can crack a grin or belt out a belly laugh because someone has taken the time to comment and be a part of whatever slice of my life was available for them to sample. Altogether the pie we share can be the dessert that hits the spot after a great meal.
Like one of my new friends, Willy, recently told me:
“A couple of nice things about the interaction here are the ability to be mentally connected without a physical presence. It’s the perfect filter for all of us, in a way … we can create, or withhold almost any element of our persona. We can appear sane, and actually be crazy. We can live through our truly crazy, manic stretches in full view of an audience of friends and associations. We can be smart and appear to be lame. We can be pacifist and cheer the death of Bin laden. We can appear to be Christian and actually be a selfish right wing sonofabitch. The other cool thing is none of us have any idea what kind of car the other drives. It’s a great social equalizer. The rich and lonely are talking and sharing with the poor and lonely. The fat are sharing with the thin. We are all the same in that our bodies have been separated from our social interactions. Minds become friends with minds. Similar spirits find similar spirits.
It’s the perfect place to prosper in the currency of social connection. This wealth is there for you if you want it. You can put on a mask or be yourself. It’s intoxicating, addictive. empowering, incomprehensible, exciting. It’s real life all bottled up for us on our desktop or lap. Our friends are worried and loving and waiting for us in a little box in our office. It beats the hell out of leaving a phone message or writing letters with a few photos enclosed.”
For now, this is Madeline Laughs signing off.
- Online anonymity: A gateway to freedom or abuse? (thenextweb.com)
- Dealing with a Stalker Your Own Personal Terrorist (socyberty.com)
- 5 Tips for Meeting Online Friends IRL (seomoz.org)
- My name is me (20114j.wordpress.com)
- Use real name on Google+ or get minused fast (technolog.msnbc.msn.com)
- Facial Recognition and Privacy in Social Media (starvingfilmcritic.wordpress.com)
- Facebook Reorganizes Your Chat List – Again (mashable.com)
- How To Be an Expert Liar and Not Alienate Your Friends Online [How To] (gizmodo.com)
- Your Social Network Identity: Real vs Pseudonym (trak.in)
- Google+ Punts On Its Kafkaesque Name Policy (wired.com)