Putting it all out there

ImageOkay, so since the whole insanity wagon that was last week in the book world, I’ve been thinking a lot about privacy. Well, no, that’s not quite true. I guess I’ve been thinking a lot about persona.

I was once told that writers are chameleons, that they can be whoever they want, changing themselves and their masks to suit the occasion or the company.

These days, with virtually everyone having some form of online life, we are all, to a greater or lesser extent, writers. Think about that for a moment. Think about the places you go online. Now think about the names you use there, the voice you speak with and the ways you interact with others.

The persona we use for, for example, Facebook, is different to the one that we use for forums or chatrooms. Do you use your real name in a chatroom? I bet you don’t. Why? Well, part of it is because putting all that information about yourself out there into the world is a pretty stupid and dangerous thing to do, but also because there are times when you want or need to say things that you can’t necessarily do under your own name.

Writers have used pseudo names for as long as there have been writers. The reasons change from person to person, sometimes it’s about privacy, sometimes it’s out of respect for someone else, or sometimes it’s just because you want to. But it’s always down to the writer. It’s for no one else to dictate to them what they call themselves.

I did have to laugh when I read countless comments over the pathetic affair last week which said things like ‘Wendy Darling isn’t even her real name!!11!’ – really? No shit!

Who cares?

Does it matter what someone chooses to call themselves? Especially online? When they aren’t getting paid for something?

Here’s the point I’m trying to make with this – many of us have day jobs, real lives. Some of us have important jobs in those lives. Some of us don’t necessarily want our online life to show up along side our day job life when someone Googles us. And that’s entirely our prerogative.

I have a family. A child. A cat. In some places I choose to share that information. In others I don’t. It’s not like it’s a secret, I just don’t think it’s appropriate. And the cat is very shy.

I don’t necessarily WANT that information to appear when I’m interacting online in a professional capacity. After all, would your day job employer or customers want to see pictures of your kids? Is it really any business of theirs?

Lets say you work in a shop. One day a customer decides that they don’t like you because you said you didn’t like brown bread, or that you preferred Diet Coke. That customer then takes it upon themselves to collate as much information about you as they can, including pictures (creepy) and contact information. Let’s say they then stood outside the shop handing out flyers with all of this information on it – pictures of your kids, pets, your address, your partner and their place of work.

Would that be appropriate? Hell no.

Now, consider this – in a technological age like this one, anyone choosing to go online does so knowing that they are instantly more public than they were before. Whether we like it or not, real life creeps in around the edges of our online personas.

It’s getting harder and harder for writers to remain private. When I was a kid I couldn’t have picked my favourite writers out of a line-up, but now writers are expected to be accessible. Many are considered some sort of celebrity. Who doesn’t know what JK Rowling looks like? Or Stephen King? Writers are expected to give more of themselves than ever before. Is it any wonder that writers like Cassandra Clare as so secretive over what their real name is? 

As a writer there are reasons for not using your own information, from not wanting your mum to be embarrassed  through to not wanting to be killed.

Now, the whole ‘outing’ of Wendy Darling was creepy and distasteful and, let’s be honest, all kinds of crazy. But what would have happened if Douthit had ‘outed’ Andy McNab?

And this is where responsibility for our actions comes into play. It’s not enough to say ‘but the information was all available’ because that doesn’t matter. If someone chooses not to share all of that information in one place then that’s up to them, they have their reasons and everyone else should respect that.

And for the record, the picture above is of my cat. To prevent her real identity being exposed she is in disguise. Please respect that.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Putting it all out there

  1. Very well said. 🙂 And your cat’s adorable.

    There was a similar discussion that I followed right around the time Google+ was in beta and there were a lot of people who talked about using monikers, screennames and pennames – they made some of the same points you make in your respective post here. I think even now, there’s nothing wrong with using them and having a right to privacy on the web. I have a bit of an open book personality and don’t mind sharing aspects I encounter in my life that are dear to me, but at the same time, I also feel like if there are things I want to keep private, I have the right to keep it as such. And it makes me weary that there would be people who would use personal information in such an abrasive manner.

    I still can’t wrap my head around what happened to Wendy and agree – the author’s post was very distasteful. I hope things work out for the best with Wendy in this.

    • I agree totally. I think it’s because I sort of grew up with the ‘net – you grow up with an online persona and identity. It’s something that allows you to be someone else entirely (admittedly this is open to abuse, but for the majority of users it’s a chance to be that person they can’t be in real life) and those personas take on a life of their own.

      Personally I just marvel that anyone would CARE enough about a complete stranger to spend more than a few seconds worrying about who they really were. As far as I’m concerned folks who do that amount of digging are the ones who are really worrying, rather than those folks who just want to go about their business in peace.

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