Friday, July 25, 2008

I Blog, Therefore I Am?

Well, if recent events are any indication, not necessarily.

There has been a lot of talk on a few of my blogrolled sites about the discovery of fraud perpetrated by the author of a popular blog. I didn't follow said blog — by the sounds of things, I must have been the only one out of the loop. My observations on the matter are purely through the eyes of the witnesses' writings. Not sure if that makes me objective or not since I'm reading subjective accounts.

Anyway, I did comment on another blog about some of the peripheral details of the situation and, after a lot of thought, felt the issue merits further discussion. It's been rolling around in my head for a couple of days now so it needs to be purged through writing a post.

The background: A person set up a blog, pretended to be someone they aren't, wove a complex tale over the course of years that tugged at the readership's heart strings, some became financially and/or emotionally invested, then the blogger was exposed as someone completely different than portrayed and the online personality was largely imaginary and/or co-opted in whole or in part from other blogs.

• This misappropriation of pics, identities, thoughts, and/or stats happens all the time in chat rooms. We've all experienced heard the stories of agreeing to meet someone from the Internet and they are either flabbier, older, uglier, or all of the above in person than they were in the photos you exchanged. Misrepresentation of oneself happens so often, it's become a part of the norm. Have you ever shaved a few years or pounds from your profile?

• Second Life, an online virtual world, allows and encourages folks to create alternate personalities. They have cultivated a complex online world that has developed into a place where people own (with real world money) virtual property, there are online real estate agents that earn a commission for selling your property, etc. It is an actual world where you can be anyone you want. A frumpy housewife in the middle of Nebraska can be Angelina Jolie. The venue, however, is such that everyone knows the game and expects the online personality to be different from the real world.

• The anonymity of the Internet allows us to be, and say, anything we want with impunity. Vile commenters are trolls and are easy to spot. They can say anything without consequences. What if a troll was an inventive sociopath? Heck, you can set up a profile and harass a girl down the street to the point where she commits suicide and face no legal repercussions. And apparently feel no guilt.

• Does any of us really ever know someone else? Lots of people don't even really know their own spouses. Check out the personals on Craig's List and you'll see posting after posting of people doing things their spouses have no idea about.

Was the leap of fakery into the blogosphere that big of a surprise? Really? Most of us know what's absolutely right and absolutely wrong, but where's that delicate line in the huge gray area in between?

We all do it. Cultivate an online image, that is. What you choose to write about on your blog defines who you are to your readers. What you don't write about, say the company you work for, your job, the size of your bank account, your family, etc. also defines who you are. People being people, we fill in the blanks when we don't have the complete picture.

I'm sure my regular readers have a distinct idea about what type of person I am. After two years of blogging, they think they know me. The interesting thing is that each of them probably has a much different image of me than the others. For instance, on my Alzheimer's Moments blog, I've never mentioned that I'm gay. It's available if they click on my profile then click on this blog. (Now that I think of it, I don't mention it very much on here, either.) But I don't share it there because it isn't pertinent. Whose "fault" would it be if they think I'm straight? Am I being deceptive? Am I lying through omission?

Take my photo. That, in and of itself, generates a certain reaction. Do you find me attractive? Not? Old? Young? Your life and tastes are projected onto my photo. Did you begin to read me because you found me appealing? Not ugly enough to click away? How many never came back because I didn't turn them on? (How many people don't engage me at blogger get-togethers because they don't find me attractive either as a potential sex partner or husband and that's their agenda?)

And what about the photo I chose to post? It's what I want you to know about me. It doesn't show me fishing or playing basketball (btw, I don't do either). I show you my face and that's it. I'm forming an image that I want you to see. I can count on one hand the number of photos I've posted here with me in them. What does it say about the blogger who would post a semi-nude shot showing off their rippling abs? They picked it for a reason. Because they want you to see them in a certain way.

And this goes to online versus real life. I would say that no less than 75% of the people I meet say I'm better looking in person. I don't say that to brag, because I don't think of myself as attractive at all. I tend to chalk it up to a crappy pic...hey, I think it's the best I've got. It points to the fact that what you know about me on here would quickly change the instant you saw me.

So, from our photos, we are already cultivating an image of what we want people to know about us.

Next are the posts. The subjects we share contribute to our online personality, whether we choose to do so or not. Some things about ourselves we enjoy sharing...others we never mention. Is this deception? I can say that very few of the people I've met from online have been what I expected. A fuller personality layered on top of their static pic and postings. Some exceeded my expectations; others disappointed. And I'm sure I've exceeded and disappointed people myself.

I never mention my best friend here on my blog. I have put that off limits but it is a huge part of my life. What does or doesn't that say about me or the image you have of me?

I rarely mention the egocentric bitch I spent four years of my life with my ex, either. Those feelings are mostly bitter and I don't want to project that image. I also want to show that I respect privacy — should I ever meet a potential love interest here, I want to demonstrate by example that I don't go online and trash people when things don't work out.

I'm exactly what I present on my blog, but it certainly isn't all of me. I'm 100% honest but I could never be 100% complete.

Summing up my point here is that we all are creating online versions of ourselves whether we consciously intend to or not.
There are two main reasons why I keep from getting too personal on this blog:

• About 10 years ago, I was the victim of identity theft. Long story short (a little too late for that, eh?), someone got my name and address, created a phony driver's license (using their pic), and would rent cars as me and never return them. He'd use a stolen credit card number other than mine so I didn't suffer financially. The only good part was that he was black so it was easy for the authorities to determine I wasn't the person doing the crimes.

With that history, I realize that the more information I divulge, the easier it is for someone to assume my identity.

• I love politics and have often fantasized about running for office. Currently, I pretty much can't stand the public having had several front line customer service type jobs. But who knows how I'll feel in the future. Every post I write, even the one a couple of days ago about abortion, I self-censor. I don't want anything I ever say to come back to haunt me. I've found this rule of thumb works for me. Don't be embarrassed by anything you write and be willing to stand behind it.
The irony is that, in person, I'm one of the most open people you'll find and have received TMI warnings on a number of occasions. But life's lessons have taught me to protect myself from others who might exploit that personality trait. I'm cautious.

The moral of this long story? Be honest. Be yourself. Be good to one another. Don't do unto others that you wouldn't have them do unto you. Have some healthy skepticism when it comes to people — particularly personalities you meet on the Internet.
Wow! After all that, thank you for coming back to read what I have to offer. :)


"MoodyBlue" Jodi said...

In the beginning of your post you were talking about people lying about their age/weight etc. I know this person through a friend who does online dating. He is 64 years old and will only date guys under 50yrs old. He claims on his profile that he is 47 years old. He dates these people and still insists he is 47 years old. He dies his hair & goatee jet black, has a hair weave and has had a face lift. Not that there is anything wrong with ANY of is just misleading. What if he got intimate with any of these suitors? What if it lead to a long term relationship? How will they feel later on that he is lying about his age by almost 20 years!! I don't understand why people do this. It will only bite them in the butt in the long run.

As far as what you said about blogging. I too am cautious about what I write. I too am 100% honest but not 100% complete. I don't think the internet is a safe place to be 100% complete. The world is a scary place. I recently had a scare with a credit card theft..and for all who read this PLEASE be careful. It happened at a gas station. I paid for gas with my credit card. About a week later my credit card company called me up saying I had unauthorized charges that were declined. They knew it wasn't me because 1) the weren't companies I normally purchase from and 2) The person didn't have my CCV number from the back of the card. Just a note to everyone, the credit card company advised never pay for gas or a restaurant bill with a credit card because of the high employee credit card number theft.

I just wanted to tell you that you made a very good post!!

Lacey said...

I was a dedicated follower and true believer. I'm stunned. I cared. I don't know why, but I cared. But I also have given it some thought, after reading your post, and I know that there's some wisdom in what you say. I started out thinking "what is wrong with this person who would deceive so many, for so long"? Now I'm thinking...what's wrong with me that I would get so invested in...what...a fantasy? I guess there's lessons to be learned here. I'm not particularly willing at the moment to delve in to all of them, but I look at the world a bit differently after this.

I guess I should give a bit more background...I have exactly eight blogs bookmarked, and I read them daily. Cooper was one of them. I was too invested.

more cowbell said...

Well I'm completely clueless about the situation you referenced, but wanted to say that this was a good post. You're spot on with the "honest but not complete" bit.

bigislandjeepguy said...
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