I still remember how I felt the first time a real-life-first friend commented on my blog. I have no idea what she wrote in her comment, but I know that when I saw her name and personal reflections on my words, I felt unexpectedly uncomfortable.
Fast forward to a few months ago, when a work acquaintance gushed loudly in a common area in the office about how she'd found my blog and thought it was so wonderful. It gave her such insight into my personality! She had no idea I thought all of those things! This was insight I wasn't necessarily interested in her having, for the record, and I'm fairly sure that what she meant by "insight" was a fresh look at why I act so marginally crazy sometimes. But what could I do at this point? Six years after I started my teensy little site, more than a thousand posts and umpteen conferences and guest posts and almost 30,000 tweets (oh hush) later, I'm out there.
I don't know what the deal is with the awkwardness about a single known human being reading, when I interact with countless lesser-known (but somehow, often, better-known) online friends and acquaintances every day, and lap up their comments like my favorite ice cream. I "write about my feelings on the Internet," as the saying goes, arguably the most public possible medium for such an activity, the polar opposite of hiding a locked diary in a nightstand drawer. I picked a domain that included not only my real first name but a play on my last, and I have never gone to any lengths to hide my site.
I have only asked two people in six years not to read my blog (both, strangely, men I had not seen in years who found me online and got uncomfortably overly-invested in what I had to say, to the tune of ten or so hits a day.) But I also never emailed links to people encouraging them to read and respond. I began writing online at a time of terrible personal heartbreak, and blogging was something I began outside of my physical world at first. I knew no one from the Internet at the time, and my minuscule corner of the web was a place for me to vent about whatever was on my mind. Often this wasn't related to what was really upsetting me at all. I didn't name any names of family or friends, and I didn't overtly rant about my ex-boyfriend. A lot of my posts were bland in the beginning, lame collections of links and random reflections on grocery shopping and the like.
But what if I had wanted my blog to be secret? What if it was important to me to share whatever was going on with me without anyone knowing in my personal life that I was doing so? What if it would have been dangerous or personally damaging for people to know that it was me -- Laurie White -- blabbing about my life on the Internet?
People who blog anonymously -- or with the sheer white-knuckled fear that their family and friends won't find it -- do so for all matter of reasons. They tell stories that reveal things they aren't prepared to share with their family, friends, co-workers and acquaintances. They discuss aspects of identity and lifestyle that may not be acceptable to "real-life-first" people. Sites like Violence Unsilenced and Crying Out Now provide spaces for women who have suffered abuse and experienced addiction to share their stories in the interest of healing and greater understanding. Some employers frown upon public disclosure of personal information. Bloggers may be involved in combative relationships with ex-spouses, siblings or parents, and aren't interested in those individuals having inside information about their lives.
Or maybe they just want a space to share without judgment. Sometimes, I know, it's just that simple.
I've seen many such scenarios over the years, and no matter the reason, it has always seemed, almost without exception, to be such a difficult path to trod. Now, especially, when social media is off-the-charts social, where lines blur on Facebook and Twitter between Internet and real life, and different factions within each, I can't imagine resting easy, thinking the person I'd least like to have read my blog would never find it. I can tell you with certainty that I would never have imagined that co-worker finding it, much less blurting it out at work that she hung on my every word.
It becomes even trickier when bloggers choose to step out from behind the keyboard and connect with others in person. I was taking photos in a conference session recently, when a blogger in front of me asked me not to include her in any of the shots. She blogged anonymously, and although she was there to participate in the event, it was important that her image not be associated in any way with the event. Obviously I complied, but it gave me pause. How can you manage anonymity, or secrecy, in such a public, interactive space? How can you trust that it will be maintained, especially when the stakes are so high?
Super-blogger, web designer, iPhoneagrapher and all-around amazing person Schmutzie has openly shared her process of disclosing her name and photographs online, in what she calls "a ride, a really transformative ride." For a very long time, for issues related to family and professional life, she did not allow herself to be photographed or identified by her real name. She made the decision last year, to own her most beautiful name of Elan Morgan.
Over the last few years, after many years of hiding my true self away from everyone, especially from those closest to me, I have been making a slow trek into the land of living out loud...
Anonymity or not, I have been as honest as I know how here for the last six-and-a-half years running, but having my name from non-internet life attached to my internet life means living out LOUDER, and each step away from living up inside my head to living out loud in the world terrifies the ever-lovin' bejeezus out of this fraidy cat.
This fraidy cat's heart and soul, though, is fed by living out loud in the world.
So, here I am. I have to be.
TJ at Temerity Jane blogs without her family's knowledge, except for her sister, who sought out her blog and did not tell her for a year that she knew about it. Why does she hide it from her mother?
Mainly so that I don't feel stifled. I COULD NOT blog if my mother was reading. And she would. Constantly. And then call me about every little thing she read. She already does that with my facebook statuses (I filter those, too).
TJ says she also kept anonymity for work for a long time, but it ended when she went to work for a web development company.
Issa at Issa's Crazy World, says no one she knows blogs or is on Twitter.
I [blog anonymously] it so I can say what I want. I use my writing as a form of therapy. So I'm more anonymous to protect myself.
Issa says this choice does limit her participation in offline events, and she does not attend gatherings of bloggers in her hometown. She has also chosen to remove her children's photos from the Web and uses alternative names for them, as her ex-husband does not want them identified.
I'm not sure, even if I'd started out being very careful about sharing my online identity with people in real life, if I would have been able to continue as my online activities began to expand. But then again, the stakes were never that high for me. Worrying about what my uncle or my sister or my down-the-hall colleague would think are relatively small concerns compared to the stakes of other bloggers who carefully and consistently choose to keep their online identities concealed from their friends and family, and their offline identities hidden from everyone else. And when put in those terms? I still don't think it's such an easy task.
Do you blog under your own name? Would you -- have you -- blogged secretly? If you didn't, do you wish you had?
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