Picking up from my last post when the Google+ pseudonymity debacle hit me with an account suspension and made me re-think the value of my personal blog, I’ve been wondering about this weird place I’ve found myself in, where I ended up posting the sanitized, socially approved kind of posts about my professional interests on my personal website, and posting sometimes controversial and personal posts on third-party websites like Twitter and Google+.
How did that happen exactly? Shouldn’t it really be the other way around?
The more I thought about it, the more I realized it happened slowly and not entirely unconsciously, and it has an awful lot to do with all this online identity business. I was able to trace it back to at least 2006, when I wrote about the confusion I was feeling as a result of my personal online handle getting tied up with my professional work life:
For many years, the “Fleep” name has been a personal identity. It was only when my involvement in the virtual world of Second Life changed from personal to professional that I realized how separately I had kept my work and personal “net life”. Not that I made any particular effort to keep my real identity secret, I’ve always assumed that anonymity is mostly impossible in this day and age, but that the people who knew me as Fleep and the people who knew me as Chris often weren’t the same people. And after 13+ years of involvement with net communities, goodness knows what I might have written in my early 20s under the Fleep moniker that I’d perhaps not want my boss to see.
And from that point forward, as my various follower/friend counts went up on Twitter and Facebook and Second Life and the zillions of other social networks, as I noticed people like my boss or my boss’ boss “following” me or using the same social networks that I used, the internet felt suddenly very much smaller than it did in the days of BBSs when my online circles in no way shape or form overlapped with my offline circles. The kind of freedom I used to feel when writing online, for instance to randomly say the “f-word” whenever I felt like it, suddenly didn’t feel quite as appropriate when I knew my mother or people from the university might be reading.
I also got caught up in reading the advice of all kinds of people that I started connecting to on Twitter and elsewhere, the Chris Brogans of the world, who opine frequently and loudly about what I “should” be writing for “my audience” to create my “personal brand”. (Not to knock Chris, he’s a great guy and a lot of his advice IS good if you’re trying to achieve what he’s achieved..) And following that advice, when I looked at my Twitter followers and subscribers to my blog etc., in terms of sheer numbers, “my audience” seemed to revolve largely around virtual worlds. So when I had the impulse to write something about, say, local politics or a great recipe I’d found, increasingly the thought would pop up that the people who read this site won’t care about Cincinnati politics or a good recipe and I didn’t want to “dilute my brand”, so I posted less and less about anything other than virtual worlds and education and started taking the other stuff to other sites.
Couple that with the confusion about what’s appropriate to post when “my audience” includes my mother, friends from college, people I’ve met at professional conferences, the guy who used to sit in the cube next to me at work, nevermind my boss and my boss’ boss, and somewhere in there, the fear of what any one of those people might think turned into a self-censor that did a better job of censoring me than Google could ever do.
I bet I’m not the only one who’s found herself in this spot. I think it’s one of the unfortunate downsides of social media and all of the connectivity that has happened in the last decade, all this overlapping of social circles in ways that defy previous kinds of social organization. I don’t think we’ve figured out the norms and rules of a society in which our personal lives are so thoroughly ad-mixed and visible to our professional lives and vice versa. The prudent person realizes that the internet has a long memory and that it’s dangerous to post certain kinds of content where your boss might see it, right? But what happens when the fear of future repercussions that you can’t anticipate becomes so strong that you find yourself unable to write about anything but “safe” topics?
I think that’s what happened. And I’m kind of tired of feeling afraid to say what I think even on my own website, the only place on the interwebs that’s actually mine. More than that, I think collectively those of us who’ve helped pioneer these technologies and evangelize about their potential positive effects also have a responsibility to grapple with the negative effects, even if it’s scary sometimes.
So to heck with it. (I still can’t quite bring myself to type out the “f word”!) This is notice that I plan to write about all kinds of things and you’re always free to stop reading if you don’t like it. I’ve also updated the obligatory disclaimer and will say again these are my personal opinions and don’t reflect the views of my employers and etc.
This is MY web site, after all.
Leaders are not what many people think–people with huge crowds following them. Leaders are people who go their own way without caring, or even looking to see whether anyone is following them. “Leadership qualities” are not the qualities that enable people to attract followers, but those that enable them to do without them. The include, at the very least, courage, endurance, patience, humor, flexibility, resourcefulness, determination, a keen sense of reality, and the ability to keep a cool and clear head even when things are going badly. This is the opposite of the “charisma” that we hear so much about.