cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo shared by miuenski

“Who are we when we write online?” asks Claudia Ceraso in Some Thoughts on Identity- Particularly Mine. This timing is interesting, as tomorrow I am scheduled to talk to Claudia on Skype for the first time. We’ve connected online since 2007, but only via twitter/blogs etc. It was a really touching email she sent after the new of my Mom’s passing that, in the middle of my own travel odyssey, I wanted to know better this colleague/friend/compatriot in Argentina.

Only via the web does this happen, folks. If there is one huge lesson about my trip, it is the value of this virtuous circle of good that happens when I get to spend time with people I’ve known through online activities, and in person feeds the online experience which feeds the in person experience… and more and more I am thinking the distinctions we make so easily are not quite as sharp or even real we make them out to be.

A similar conversation came up when I was visiting George Siemens and we did a ds106radio broadcast – this, what feels weird to me, distinction people make about what they do online and (here comes the scare quotes) in “real life”.

cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo shared by UrvishJ

I find even the terminology strange– to “go online” as if it were a place. Do we sit down on the couch, press the remote, and say we are “going TV”? Maybe thats a poor analogy, but using the “go” makes it suggest we are having some sort of out of body experience.

Part of this seems historic, because in the previous decades of networked technology, we had to go to a place- first it was some special building with a mainframe computer, then maybe a computer lab, then as microcomputers hit the home front, we were picking ourselves up from the living room, and going to some other room to be connected.

But with tablets, ipads, internet connected phones, we can go online almost where-ever we are (that is unless you are in a major metro area like Baltimore and good effing luck getting decent AT&T signal consistently, that’s another whinge)

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by Vinay Deep

It’s my personal contention that a suggestion of ourselves moving from “offline” to “online” is a false binary construct. We are who we are, period. Yet we selectively and appropriately reveal ourselves, sometimes variations, sometimes less then full representations, not only online, but in different social circles. My personality is different with the locals who hang out in Sidewinders bar in Pine, Arizona then at some academic conference in New York City, but just by shades of difference.

To rephrase Claudia’s question, I like how she flips it around:

Let me ask you once again:
Who are you when you write online?

Think of it conversely. The offline-only people in your lives who have never ever cared to read what you passionately write about, who do they actually know?

I can say categorically, the 30, 40, 50 people I have met on this trip, ones whom I have had mostly communicated with via online spaces, are every bit as real in terms of friendship, and even more so, than ones whom my only interactions have been in the meatspace. I am not suggesting one is better than the other, but to me- the difference is so fuzzy it is transparent.

This friendships I have head were interesting in the online channels, but when you mix in the face to face experience, oh brother, stand back, it is really explosive in the quality of these friendships.

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by Domiriel

I do not suggest this is true or what other people can say, but I am ready to drive a stake into the notions of “online” vs “offline” states of being; such differences dont exist for me anymore- I am one Alan, not some frankenstein sewed together personality, and I float fluidly on the bits and atom states of the world.

The line is so vague, for me it is gone.

And the whole space is much more beautiful than the two fake halves.

cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo shared by Bob.Fornal

Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. Interesting. I absolutely agree with you about not being a different “being” online or in virtual space. And that friends in those places are just as real.

    “I find even the terminology strange– to “go online” as if it were a place.”

    It struck me when I read that sentence that I really don’t think of “going online” as having an opposite state (being offline).

    But I do think of it as going into another space. It’s as normal for me as saying I’m going downtown. Or going next door. Or going into SL. Going to do things and be with friends. Going online. A place. A good place.

  2. Not really sure how “trackbacks” work so I basically commented on your post by blogging myself.

    GNA Blogged: How many social media horcruxes do you have?

    Feel free to delete this if it’s redundant and/or it makes me look like the idiot I am when it comes to blogging. NOBODY!

  3. Barbara and I did a whole NV thing on this very issue. I agree that there’s no real separation between online and offline. I’d say, though, that what I put online has shifted a bit. In certain venues like Twitter and Facebook, I’m now one of several voices that my employer shares with the world, which is great, but means that those spaces are mostly professional. Of course, I’ve never been good at separating personal from professional anyway. I chose a career that makes that almost impossible. About the only thing I’ve done is to cease commenting on politics. It’s too risky for me professionally now (different student/parent body). I have plenty of other outlets for that.

    I think many people are coming to see that who they are online is their real self. I see students having difficulty with that. It’s like Facebook and Twitter are a fantasy world that has no consequences. Clearly, that’s a problem. Luckily, it’s part of my job to help them with that. :)

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