Saturday, June 2, 2012

Online Personhood

Since first getting online in the late eighties, I've probably spent a couple of years of my life using the internet, but not really for anything important. During that time I've made a few dollars on Ebay while getting ripped off on my Star Wars collection and about twenty two cents on blogging, which I am unable to find. Much of it has been wasted time. I produced some dumb fiction, wrote some bad poems, had some arguments... I prided myself on winning a good number of them, but the kind of people I argued with were mostly Bush supporters, which was like stomping around on a hill of fireants. Sorry fellas - the boots win... or do they? Rematch, anyone? My skin's gotten a bit thicker over the years.

This blog is going all over the place, but it's growing to represent a new personal step on the internet... a more honest one, I think, and a conscious acknowledgement of the fact of what I'll call 'online personhood'. Afterall, everyone is some kind of person online, right? Even if they're a different person in real life.

Now that blogs and dumb comments are as good as written in stone, I'm thankful for a couple of things, and one of them is that I wasn't too young online. Nothing special or eventful really happened, but I'm still happy that those days of personal discovery are gone, thanks to 35mm film. If anyone wants to make an attempt at finding embarassing photos of me online, they'll have to wait for me to first dig up piles of old photos and unstick them from each other, then digitize them provided they're undamaged enough to be damaging. And what would there be in that dog-eared pile? (I just realized that the cliche term 'dog-eared' is going the way of the dodo, much like hyphenating words) There's nothing in that pile - because 35mm film developing was too expensive! Oh! Blessed days of old. We had privacy, if not out of respect for each other, basic human decency and all of that, but because privacy was too costly to invade. Now invading each other's privacy is made fun and easy with any and all consumer electronics. It's even encouraged in advertisements featuring pretty people taking candid photos of other pretty people having spontaneous fun, which is why Facebook is overloaded with photos of people trying to look pretty in all of those contrived photos... and often getting into trouble.

Since privacy is something that doesn't actually exist, we can hope at least for a modicum of anonymity, the way a reticent person can escape notice in a room filled with braying jackasses. (I'm wondering now, since my online personality isn't being reticent, where I might fall on the jackass scale).

While I'm happy that my youth isn't searchable, I do wish that I could search a couple of things once in awhile. The local bands and artists I liked in university are all gone. The wild artistic people I admired often have very respectable, high paying careers (I searched them!). While I wish the music and images they produced were online and saved for posterity for me to look at whenever I felt nostalgic, perhaps it's better that those things are gone. There's no online persona that will follow them. They're truly free from it. That's the way things ought to be. If I want to remember someone, I'll have to actually have to use my mental faculties to remember them rather than simply typing their name clicking 'like' on their photos.

The next few years will be interesting even with the ability to delete much of our online histories. For one, we're going to learn as a group just how much of our online histories can be deleted. For example, if I bully you, you might get upset and delete the copy of the message from your e-mail or you may keep it and throw it back to haunt me later on. Anything we do can end up being copied and sent anywhere. We have no control.

In fact, if I were to make a quick recommendation about what to do with online bullies, I would say that keeping their comments is probably the best thing to do (but make copies in case they try to bully you into deleting their previous bullying).

I could even make a cute saying about it: Every time you're an idiot on line, you're an idiot for all time.

Please feel free to post and repost that little nugget of wisdom, perhaps with a picture of a kitten next to it.

Even after being online for about 15 years, I'm still coming to terms with the fact that I've got an online identity, and even if I were trying to fake being someone cooler or more interesting than I really am, the truth probably would have come out by now. But how close is my online identity to the person I am when the computer is off? What kind of snapshot does it provide for a person who would like to know who I really am? After this many years, it's definitely more than a snapshot... unless you want to call a Diego Rivera mural a doodle.  After awhile, the online persona must become an online person.

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