Blogging identity: art, porn, and privies

 In education

I am a transparent blogger. I use my real name, reveal personal details, and don’t separate my personal and professional identity. In my posts, I have discussed everything from flatulence to love to education, and readers who visit my blog will likely gain multi-dimensional view of who I am.

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Art and reality 

“Never let them catch you at it.” – Spencer Tracy (on acting)

My comfort with a high level of transparency stems in part from my artistic background, where personal revelation is essential for meaningful performance. As an actor, I have repurposed my most sacred, internal and vulnerable experiences for public consumption. However, the public doesn’t usually register that they are seeing “me” because this identity is filtered through “character.” Our online identity is similar: we present a character that is considered, edited, and revised. In other words, there’s always an art to it. Blogging – no matter how revelatory – is curated.

Curating Identity

This curating of our identity is far from disingenuous, although it’s more obvious when we literally edit material for publication. However, every relationship we have, even with our most intimate loved ones, is edited to some extent. It’s why different aspects of ourselves become revealed with different friends, and why we learn to think before we speak our every thought. We are constantly evaluating and monitoring our self-expression. Full integration is  possible only from our own singular viewpoint.

From this perspective, our unease with online identify conflation is similar to the panic we feel when we are hanging with a friend from our wild days and then bump into our new boss. The crossing of the worlds forces us to recognize our own internal fragmentation, our willingness to be one thing to one person and something else in another context. Perhaps crafting our online identity is an unexpected opportunity to unite our fragmented selves, or to at least work towards become comfortable with our human inconsistency.

Entertainment

The line between truth and fiction has always been blurry, and social media is pushing us further into meta-awareness of its subjectivity. After all, when the medium is the same and the content sounds similar, distinguishing between reality, entertainment, and education becomes increasingly subjective. It is a similar conundrum to the quandary of defining porn:

“I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description, and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.” – Supreme Court Justice Stewart, on pornography

The most public purveyor of this blurriness (um, between truth and fiction, not porn and art) can be seen in President Obama, who has embraced non-traditional entertainment venues such as Saturday Night Live to meet the public. When a trusted figure like the President shows up on television in a show, reading scripted lines, the artificiality and limitations of both worlds are exposed. It’s a new uncanny valley, where the consistency of the artistic medium is fractured and the artificiality of the news is exposed. Truth is increasingly in the eye of the beholder, and the onus is now on the recipient – rather than the progenitor – to construct a personal version of reality.

Privacy and the Privy

So where does that leave us? Has trying to separate our personal and professional identities simply antiquated? Companies frequently (if unofficially) peruse Facebook profiles of potential employees where they can information that is considered illegal to obtain during the interviewing process, such as one’s age, kids, marital status, and sexual orientation. We feel that if it’s out there, we have a “right to know.” Similarly, it’s common to “face-stalk” someone after meeting them to get the goods. Our attempts to separate our personas into discrete data packages is becoming harder and harder to maintain. Engaging in social media is like having a huge party and inviting everyone you know to come with all their friends. Trying to control our personas is a little like trying to keep your parents from talking to your good times college roommate Spanky.

When I took a rafting trip down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon, we used an outdoor portable privy and washed in the river. “Privacy,” declared our guide, “is not looking.” In other words, privacy was in the hands of the observer, not the progenitor. If you want to be respectful, don’t look. Perhaps this will become the hallmark of social media, where the onus is on the observer, not the observed, to exercise restraint.

Or perhaps we’ll stop worrying so much about what will happen when Mom and Spanky meet, and instead just start enjoying the party.

 

References

Dennen, Vanessa (2009). Constructing academic alter-egos: identity issues in a blog-based community. Identity Journal Limited. doi: http://www.dx.doi.10.1007/sl/12394-009-0020-8

 

Photo credit.

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Showing 2 comments
  • Shannon

    Hey Rachel,

    I love how eloquent your posts are, so I can easily see how you have a knack for blogging & writing! I particularly enjoyed reading the section on curating identity, and I can see a lot of what you said in my own life. I would say though, the closer you are with your loved one, the less you curate and edit, wouldn’t you agree? I fee like a big reason why so many bloggers are transparent is because they feel as though this medium, blogging, only takes them so far to the reader, most of them the blogger will never encounter, especially those that live thousands of miles away. It becomes easy to let go when you know there’s judgement, but judgement you won’t have to ever really worry about. When you are talking real life relationships, there is a lot of judgement, because your loved ones feel comfortable enough to say what they need to say. Anyways, great post! 🙂

  • Rachel

    Hi Shannon, I do agree, yes! The closer we are, the more facets they get and – hopefully – the closer we can get to sharing that singularity of our identity with them. Isn’t it ironic then, that we feel most betrayed when we are misunderstood by those that we love? The greatest betrayals happen closest to our hearts.

    You’re right: there’s a funny anonymity to blogging isn’t there! Like when we tell your hairdresser all our innermost secrets 🙂 But writer beware: I’m in an industry where people find me socially. I’ve had many students connect with me after class to comment on a post or reference what I’ve said in this anonymous/public medium. It’s good: keeps reminding me that there are people on the other end of the video. I don’t really believe that people are watching and reading – until they walk up to me and tell me!

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