Patterns in communication: online identities

As it befits a rainy Sunday, a short online article about being online.

But, as this month the main line of articles (“Change2010“) is built around the “patterns” theme, I will shift the focus from just being online, to… being online, i.e. from the status of being on the online systems, to the choice of how to be there.

So, where should I start? Identity only is a “fluid” concept- almost anybody I know has multiple identity.

Obviously, I too thought about that option- but discarded it.

Let’s see why: I have been a consultant for a long time, with a technical background but really generalist- you tell me what I should be conversant on to break the ice, and I will be- my only real skills are introducing change, coaching, number crunching, and… finding or building patterns.

Usually, from 1980s on, this implied that my colleagues at the university, “pupils” while I was teaching during my compulsory service in the Army, employers and customers made a practical joke of dumping on me some “problem” that required adopting somebody else’s mindset- as the most efficient way to approach the issue required “entering in the shoes” of the proponent.

Technique? Skill? Maybe- but this implies that you have to be able to immediately look for the tell-tale signs that allow you to restrict the choices.

Eventually, it is all based on listening and understanding the basics, so that you can link what you know and what you did with what they know and what you need to further learn to be able to communicate in a way that is consistent with their expectations.

Logic requires that you have your own identity, as otherwise you do not have “patterns of reference” to use to introduce what they say- and a basic understanding of what is “normal” for them.

You can learn those skills from books? I doubt- I learned by helping my father to learn his roles as an actor, and discussing with him the scripts, as also a kid like me could eventually see when patterns within the dialogue diverged from what the “role”, better, the “person represented by the role”, would have done in that situation.

Probably you are now thinking that I lost the thread now: bear with me, as I think that soon you will understand why creating a fake identity online is not a good idea- unless you want to invest an helluva lot of time into keeping it “confined” and avoid any overlap with your regular life.

Often, you read books with characters that are inconsistent or pointless; but, sometimes, you find books whose characters leap out of the page.

I remember reading the book “Rising Sun” from Crichton before the movie was produced- my first reaction was: I think that there is only one actor who could fit the main role; I asked my brother to read the book- and we both arrived at the same conclusion: Sean Connery.

Normally, people who create identities online do not do their homework as Crichton used to do with his books, painstakingly researching (but that is an old art, as old as human storytelling).

The result? The “spillover” from their real identity to the other, notably online, or, when they became confident that they fake persona is considered true, they fall prey to hubris- and go online with just one layer of fake information, starting to interact with people.

Losing your perspective is then quite easy: your fake persona lacks “depth”, and while that is fine in a one-way communication (posting, etc), you should not venture into chatting or e-mail conversations.

Even the best, those with multiple online personalities (for whatever reason they do it, professional or personal), often overlap their different personalities, and it takes but few exchanges to build a “communication tunnel”, where they keep dumping in something that does not belong to the identity that they are using (from cultural references, to patterns of communication, keywords, or even references that are actually linked to their real identity!)

So, while I had been online before the Internet, I never created a fake identity- and also when I started publishing and really interacting in social networks (the first time when I was a prolific writer was in January 2007, on stage6.divx.com, under the name “aleph123”), while I was still working occasionally as a consultant on projects for old customers I simply removed my name- but, eventually, upon invitation from an English/Indian friend, I joined Facebook before it was open to non-school members, under my own name, and re-activated also a membership that I had had “dormant” for few years in a Eastern European community, where I had been invited from somebody that I knew from real life.

Somebody would say that the multiple identities online are an extension of what most individuals do often in real life- tweaking reality to better socially position themselves.

Well, what I think about that statement is written in the first letter of each paragraph that you read so far.

Why? As you can see, this simple posting had two layers of communication- the paragraph-by-paragraph dissertation about online identities: and the final judgment, “hidden” in the first letter of each paragraph.

It was to show, with a simple word game, why just having two layers of communication requires careful planning and preparation.

If you are really into “fake identities”, I suggest that you use a small software called “CeltX”, an open source scriptwriting and production tool, that allows to document locations, characters, a credible timeline and set of cultural references, and so on.

Otherwise, it is better to stick to your real identity- or to use your fake identities only for one-way communication.

Anyway: whatever you do online is linked- and the patterns of access are now analyzed by social networks to better target advertisements.

Therefore, also if you carefully creating multiple identities on, say, Facebook, and do nothing to make them talk with each other, you just need to access gmail and leave the mailbox without logging out, to create a “trail” of your access.

Even more detailed if you use Chrome.

In the end- I stick to my choice: my real identity, multiple profiles only to separate communities (e.g. business from private, or geographically, or by interest), and neither self-aggrandizing nor lies online.

As anything you write today, will stay there forever.

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