Ever check out your own kids’ My Space pages? I’ll bet their virtual personalities gave you a bit of a jolt.
But it’s not just Gen X and Gen Next’ers who talk funny online. Sensible middle-aged adults – maybe especially the sensible ones – seem to take on a barely recognizable persona when they stumble into a social networking site. Apparently, people get a kick out of inventing offbeat versions of their ordinarily sober selves.
Sound familiar? Aren’t these folks a little like fiction writers? Inventing characters on the page? Each and every fanciful personage some variant of the writer herself?
While I’ve long known that I’m more inventive at the keyboard, others are more creative behind a fountain pen. I’ve concluded that whatever the tool, when we start talking with our fingers we tend to go someplace deeper than we go in ordinary face-to-face interactions. And once we step into one of the endless virtual worlds available on the internet, we’re all the more likely to take on singular qualities.
Analysts like John Suler (The Psychology of Cyberspace) explain the phenomena as anonymity’s ‘disinhibition’ effect. You don’t know me. You can’t see me. It’s just a game. I’m as clever as the next guy. I’m cooler than the next guy. And hey, what you see here’s the real me.
Some folks act out dark and dangerous stuff online. But most people are simply having benign fun trying on identities.
Here’s the rub. Whatever text your disinhibited self puts out there – her words have a tendency to stick around. You can’t shake them. You may never shake them.
I’ve seen a number of recent articles warning folks to Google their own names to see what a potential employer (read agent!) is likely to learn about them. It may not be a pretty picture. Here’s a relatively harmless example that illustrates the point: In a moment of enthusiasm on Crimespace, I accepted the Cliché Challenge to write a briefer-than-flash clichéd story. The offerings were so outstanding that I dashed off some remark like “deadlines be damned, I’m gonna try this too.” I did try it, and found my own entry charming. My point, however, is that my “deadlines be damned” remark wouldn’t be appreciated by my actual clients, who care about my meeting deadlines. Come to think of it, my future editor (I'm forever the optimist!) might not find it so appealing either.
P.S. Take a look at the Boston Globe’s recent “The Avatars of Style.” Some people go so far as to create graphical images to represent their virtual selves. Some even make several. It’s like playing paper dolls with an infinite wardrobe. Even better, you can animate your little person. She can moonwalk or jump rope. However, I’ve seen more interesting avator graphics, I’m certain, than the ones referenced in the Globearticle. Where do I go to find something really unusual? Must have been on a gaming site that I saw such cool figures. Oh boy. Guess I’ll have to try gaming now too!