Pseudonyms and the Siloed Life

Pseudonyms and the Siloed Life April 26, 2011

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.

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