Public/Private Presences

12 06 2009


The Web 2.0 classes have had me thinking a lot about the topic of privacy and presence on the web, lately. The generations in school now are growing up with an expectation of living their lives in public in a way that would likely appall many of their parents.  I’m from an “in-between” generation– I know what it was to have a social life (well, as much as geeks have social lives) before “social networking,” but I have a very solid digital presence today– multiple email accounts and blogs, Twitter, Flickr, a couple of wikis, an MMORPG (*coughWarcraftcough*), chats, RSS feeds…. yep, got ’em.

Despite all that, I have been fairly diligent in keeping lines drawn between aspects of my life.  Online:offline.  Professional:Private.  Librarian Secret Identity:Superhero… oops. 😉  Seriously, though… even though I interact with the public every day, I consider myself a fairly private person, and I can be downright paranoid about how much of myself I’ll put out on the Web.  I usually sign comments with a nickname instead of my real name, and I’m extremely careful about giving out my email addresses.  If you know me in person, you know what I look like.  If you only know me online, you probably don’t.  I never use pictures of myself as avatars (I may be a bookworm, but I am neither little nor green), and I am deliberately vague about exactly where I live (although now that I think on it, I believe Flickr automatically geotags my photos).  I have a running private joke (not so private now, I suppose) about my “self-portraits” on Flickr– I take pictures of my shadow, or of  a very distorted reflection (say, in a garden gazing ball).  Pictures of me, but not recognizably “me” to someone who doesn’t know me.  Some of this is common-sense Internet safety, but I’ll freely admit that my own paranoia is a factor.

Truthfully, it *shouldn’t* be so much of an issue.  Although it’s true that anything posted to the Web has a good chance of being there forever (no matter how quickly you take it down again), the sheer glut of information on the Web does a pretty good job of protecting most people’s privacy.  Unless you’re a celebrity or someone is actively trying to hack you, your information will likely be of interest only to the people who already know you (or know of you) IRL.  Yes, I’m out there… but the chances of a stranger accidentally wandering across me and discovering– or even caring about– my life story are pretty slim.  I am technically writing for the entire wired world on this blog, but I have a fairly good idea of who my actual audience will be: my colleagues at work (starting with those taking the Web 2.0 classes with me), a few friends who might choose to seek me out here, and possibly some of our local library community, if I choose to keep this blog active.  (Go ahead and tell me I’m wrong.  Or tell me I’m right.  Yes, of course I mean you.  What do you think that comment box is down there for?)  The social borders are shifting, too.  “Kids today” are comfortable living digitally in public not because they are unaware of privacy concerns, but because they have no difficulty recognizing intended audience from context (much in the way you’d recognize your suit-wearing boss was not in “work” mode if you encountered him in shorts and a Hawaiian shirt).  Or, possibly, the lines just aren’t as meaningful to them.

Privacy concerns aside, that still leaves the issue of formerly distinct personas merging into one another on the Web.  Blogging hasn’t been so much of an issue… I have a private blog, and I have this, my (mostly) professional blog.  I’m aware that I could have crossover in my audience, and I keep that in mind when I’m writing, but for the most part, I know who will be reading what.  In the morning, though… my worlds collide.  I’ve had an active Twitter account for nearly a year.  My followers have been, for the most part, friends and family… but now my work colleagues will be able to look at my tweets.  (Not that they couldn’t have at any time in the past, it’s just that, y’know, now I *know* they’ll be there.)  I admit, it makes me a little… nervous.  I don’t act the same way with friends as I do at work.  Looking ahead, we’ll be working on Facebook soon, and that makes me even *more* nervous.  I know I have friends and family who are active on Facebook, but I’ll be creating a presence as a librarian.  Who will I write for?  What tone do I take?  Or do I dodge the question entirely and create yet another alias?

Questions I don’t have answers for… yet.  Stay subscribed, dear Reader.