Pseudonyms and the Siloed Life

I recently realized that I lead multiple different lives. I have by professional life where I toil at VCR repair and talk about it with other professionals in my field. I have my church life, where I teach and attend meetings and work with members of my congregation. I have my neighborhood life where I socialize with the families that live around me. I have at least three different online lives. On Facebook, I keep it pretty light with some jokey status updates and liking friends’ pics and links. I have my personal family blog that is deliberately not linked to my Facebook profile and is not publicly searchable. It isn’t exclusive or anything, just if you know it, you know it; if you don’t, you don’t. And then of course I am TT. Each life I live is contained to a particular silo, and almost no one really knows all of those lives.

In many ways, the siloed life is increasingly an anomaly. Most people live fully integrated lives, or at least apparently so. Facebook statuses from some amazing people alternate from professional, political, religious, personal, and silly reflections, and are able to strike that perfect balance of openness, reflectiveness, humor, and insight. Others crash and burn and I spend a lot of my time (silently) tsk tsking.

Increasingly it seems that the real identities behind blog pseudonyms are an open secret, and a recent Facebook group was created partly so that people could connect their “real” identities to the blog identities. Current FPR bloggers largely abstained. But the integrated life is really just a fantasy too, since everyone lives some version of their life in different contexts. There is only the more- or less-siloed life, since the fully public life is a fiction.

I have to say that I love the siloed life. I can be a carefree parent doing fun activities in one; a hardnosed VCR repairperson in another; a passionate affirming teacher in another; and a cultural critic in another. I find that being able to keep these lives separate affords me an enormous amount of freedom. I am not burdened by the need to perform all identities simultaneously, to speak to the multiple constituents that make up my life. Instead, if I want to have a conversation about politics, VCR repair, faith, family, or neighborhood, I can speak to these different constituencies without the baggage of all the others.

Is this just a nostalgia for good, old-fashioned privacy, the kind before strangers or acquaintances could check your resume, view your kids, determine your political leanings, locate you geographically, speculate on your bank account, and judge your faithfulness, as the contextualization for every other comment, idea, suggestion, joke, and criticism? Maybe it is nostalgia, but I kind of liked the old democratic internet where race, gender, socio-economic location, and age could all be set aside and a pure, disembodied intellectual realm could truly exist. Not that it ever really existed. And not that our bodily experiences aren’t essential to epistemology and moral reasoning, but it seemed that the anonymity of the internet at least held that potential as an ideal.

That isn’t to say that it is not tempting to have an integrated life. Perhaps some day I too will leave Eden into the dreary wilderness of onymous blogging. But for now, the fig leaf just seems too itchy. There are certainly a lot of advantages, especially for those with social privilege. Isn’t it nice that white, educated, well-connected, middle and upper class people can bring those privileges into their online conversations? Well, nice for them. Now, I need to get back to posing as a 12 year old in another forum.

18 Replies to “Pseudonyms and the Siloed Life”

  1. Interesting thoughts. I started out in the Bloggernacle carefully guarding my pseudonym, not even really indicating that it was a pseudonym. (Keri Brooks is not my real name.) I outed myself to about 10 people at a Bloggersnacker last year and then to the Bloggernacle Facebook group last week. I’ve toyed with openly outing myself on my blog, but like you, I value my privacy. (Which may sound strange, given the personal nature of my blog posts.) I’m still not sure whether I’m ready to fully integrate.

  2. I too like to keep my FB life really light and fun. I have zero interest in arguing about religion or politics in that forum.

  3. About the only time I wish I were siloed is when I’d like to be more candid about characters in my ward. Although I’m aware of only one regular Keepa reader in my ward, there’s always the chance that if I recreate a bizarre talk or lesson or hallway speech, someone involved would read it and take offense. But I have so much “stuff” out there under such a readily identifiable name that my only hope at not having all the embarrassing stuff come back to bite is putting out so much more that nobody would want to skim through it all to find the freaky stuff.

  4. No, it *IS* me on those blogs, and I’m actually quite proud of it! 🙂 It’s just a little hard to explain, sometimes. Nearly always, in fact. (39,200 hits for ‘ardis parshall marijuana’ just now. It grows every week. What would my mother think if she were still here?)

  5. I’ve never hidden my actual name when the need for it has come up: It’s David Bowie. However, half of nobody online believes me when i say so, so it’s just easier to be forced into the siloed life and go by David B.

  6. I don’t hide my name when I actually get to know people, but I have good reason to use a pseudonym here. I don’t consider it a “silo” because I’m the same person with my real name or with “SilverRain”.

  7. I use a pseudonym because once when I was trapped in this big rube’s home I escaped by ramming a pointy stick in his (only) eye and when I got away he yelled at me inquiring my name and I responded with my pseudonym that both concealed my identity and lampooned the guy among his Greek-speaking social peers.

  8. When I started blogging, my plan was to stay anonymous. A lot of it for me was that saying things on the internet already felt unnervingly public. There was also a bit of worry about ecclesiastical repercussions, as well as concern that as an academic without a job yet, I wasn’t sure I wanted my blog to turn up in a google search.

    For me, though, it became unsustainable–more for practical reasons than any ideological shift. I met too many people at bloggersnackers. I presented at too many Mormon conferences. I still don’t use my real name on the bloggernacle, but it’s not all that secret (especially if you’re on Facebook). And for me, that’s actually been a good thing–it does come with some sense of integration.

    That said, I think that we inevitably end up being different people, or at least different versions of ourselves, in different contexts. If you haven’t seen me interact with my family, or in an academic setting, or on a blog, or at church, there’s a side of me that you don’t quite know. I hope that there’s enough consistency that I couldn’t be accused of being a fraud in any of those contexts, but I think the self is always to some extent going to be locally constructed.

    It’s also been fascinating to me to see the subtle differences that arise from taking on different pseudonyms. I was involved with an internet group years ago where I never revealed my true name. And I developed a particular identity and persona–it wasn’t fake by any means, and yet it emphasized certain attributes, it brought forth certain aspects of who I am. My family members sometimes call me by my real name, and sometimes by a nickname, and sometimes “Lynnette,” and while they obviously all refer to me, they aren’t completely identical. Because they’re tied to particular settings and histories.

    And this comment is getting long. It must be coming from the talkative version of me who is currently running my life.

  9. No, as in here on the internet. I have had an internet stalker before, and a harassing ex who doesn’t have a legal toothpick to stand on despite his threats especially because I use a pseudonym.

  10. Great discussion. I never knew that “Lynnette” was not Lynnette or that “Keri Brooks” was not Keri Brooks. But I was always fairly sure that “SilverRain” and “TT” were pseudonyms.

    One day, no one will need to use pseudonyms. Heaven is a place where everyone knows your real name and no one need be afraid. Until then, alas, there will be place for pseudonyms. Even Joseph Smith used pseudonyms at times.

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