February 25, 2006

The Pseudonymous Meme

Inspired, of course, by the discussions about Jeff Rice's piece over at NewKid's and Dr. Crazy's. And since it's my meme, there are no rules. Do whatever the hell you want with it.

Is your blogging persona more serious than your real life persona? Not really. I would say, though, that my blog posts are more serious than my comments. Comments are spontaneous – more like how I talk – whereas my blog posts are the way that I write, which means I edit them. So yeah, my comments tend to be more playful. And filled with typos. Especially when I am over at Pilgrim's bar, getting drunk on all the virtual beer.

Do you think the only safe way an academic can write publicly is to write anonymously? Of course not. I participate in discussion lists under my real name. I write other things under my real name. But yeah, ask me again in a few years after the Bush administration has taken away even more of our civil liberties.

Do you think that your blog could ruin your career? Well, the amount of time I spend reading blogs or hanging out in virutal bars like Pilgrim’s does probably hurt my career. Blogging can be an insidious form of procrastination.

But otherwise, no. During a presentation at a conference last fall, I read three blog posts, identifying them as such at the beginning of the session. I also read poetry that had been published in academic journals. No one in the audience seemed to treat the blog posts any different than the poems.

What would happen if an administrator at my college discovered my blog? Nothing. I doubt anyone would even read it. I doubt my tenure committee even read all the stuff I gave them when I went up for tenure.

Do you use a pseudonym out of fear? No.

What is the biggest drawback to writing pseudonymously? I have trouble spelling the word. Shouldn't it be pseudononymous? I always want to put in that extra syllable. I think I tend to use the word anonymous instead, because it's easier to spell, but pseudonymous is a better way to describe my blog. I don't feel particular anonymous on the blogs. People know who I am, they know many of my opinions, my feelings, and thoughts. They just might not know the name I use at home.

Has anyone stumbled on your blog and found it accidentally? Yes. My daughter did because she was using my computer. Two of my siblings found my blog while doing google searches for something that had nothing to do with me. Anyone who knows me and reads even one post usually recognizes me. My blogging persona is not really a persona at all.

Have you outed yourself to any other bloggers? I usually give my real name to anyone who sends me an email. That means almost all the bloggers who read me on a regular basis know who I am. Since I am not famous or anything, I doubt that my real name means much to them. Except that they can google me and see a photo – and often people do like to know where I am located geographically. (No, I don’t live in Maine! How come people always think that?)

Has your blog allowed you to experiment with writing? I would not call the kind of writing I do on the blog experimental, but yes, blogging is an experiment for me. I usually write poetry and the blog is my attempt to play around with writing non-fiction.

Why do you use a pseudonym? The super cool bloggers that I admire – like Bitch Ph.D. and Profgrrrrl – use pseudonyms. When I began blogging, I chose a pseudonym because I was following the conventions of the community I wanted to belong to. I don’t make huge attempts to hide my identity or my location. The pseudonyms I use are often just silly. (Like when I went to a conference in the Big Midwestern City with at Least One Very Tall Building and the Baseball Team that Always Loses. Is there anyone who couldn’t figure out where I was?) But using them marks me as a blogger.

I do like that real life people cannot find my blog by googling me.

I think that is the main thing that writing pseudonymously does – it limits my audience to other bloggers. Students, family, colleagues, or real life friends cannot find my blog by searching for my name. Bloggers come to my blog via a blogroll or a comment I’ve left on a blog. That way, my readers are bloggers who understand the conventions of blogging. They understand that posts are written quickly, often rough drafts and unfinished thoughts. For the most part, they know the blogs that I link to, and can see what I write as part of a larger conversation in a blogging community. I don’t have to explain what a meme is, or explain why I might post a photo of a cat on a Friday. Pseudonymous bloggers write for other bloggers. That seems to piss off people outside the blogging community. I think they are jealous.


Girl said...

What??? You're NOT from Maine???

hee hee

I love how you explain that by using psudoenomeymously-eums(sp?) you associate yourself with other bloggers, who understand the process. That you appreciate that you don't have to explain what a meme is or why you might post a picture of a cat on a Friday to someone who knows you but has found you through searching your name.

I agree with that and I don't think I would have ever come up with how to express that on my own as well as you have here.

Happy Saturday, Jo(e)!


BrightStar (B*) said...

yep. they're totally jealous!

I hadn't explicitly thought about the choice to use a psuedonym as a social convention -- that's what people do in this community -- but that makes a lot of sense to me, and I think it's right on.

This was a great post. Thanks.

listie said...

I consider blogging to be hiding in plain sight. It didn't take me long to figure out that your Snowstorm City is my CitytotheRight and your Camera City is my NearbyCity. By reading your profile I know that you teach at the school where my GradSchoolNiece just finished. We all leave clues to our identities that make it possible for others to find out who we are "in real life", but we all choose to maintain the conventions of the blogging community. (Since I'm breaking the conventions here by admitting I know where you're located - I've been wanting to ask, but was afraid to be too presumptuous, but do you know a good vegetarian restaurant in Snowstorm City?)

Dr.K said...

What's a meme?

Ianqui said...

Two of my siblings found my blog while doing google searches for something that had nothing to do with me.

Yikes. This is why I don't let google index my site! I care deeply about my family members and my colleagues finding my blog, and I think it would be easy for them to figure out that it's me if they read just a little bit of the blog.

I like this meme. I might even do it.

Pilgrim/Heretic said...

jo(e), this is lovely, and one of the very few sensible statements I've seen about this whole ruckus so far.

(Apologies for threatening everyone's careers, though. Maybe I should hang up some sort of disclaimer in the bar?)

jo(e) said...

Listmaker: Oh, I will have to send you an email. We don't have any restaurants that are strictly vegetarian, but several that have good vegetarian options.

Ianqui: What did me in as far as google goes is that when I mentioned some of the small islands up on the river where we camp in the summer, I did not bother to use pseudonyms because the names of the islands (Third Brother Island, Wassail Island, Flat Rock, Whiskey Island) already sound like pseudonyms. And I thought ... who would ever google the names of those islands? Well, two of my siblings, it turns out. One was just checking, out of curiosity, to see if any of the islands were for sale. And the other because he had done a painting of one of the islands.

susan said...

You invent the best memes, jo(e). I like the way this meme broadens the conversation beyond the original article-ruckus.

New Kid has been making the point that Real Name bloggers aren't so different from Pseudonymous bloggers--after all, it's all words that are conveying our thoughts, images, perspectives to each other (granted, if I blog under the name I also publish under people can make connections there and dooceing is only possible for people who get identified. But pseudonyms can be guessed, too.)

Anonymous said...

jo(e), everyone thinks Maine because when you say "cold" and "beautiful," Maine pops into mind! And I do think some of your camp pics look like Maine. I'm just jealous of where you live, Maine or not. ;-)

Musey_Me said...

I like this meme. I also like some of your answers about pseudonyms. We aren't actually all just trying to hide....

Phantom Scribbler said...

This is a *great* meme, and a great discussion. But my question veers of the academic focus: do you think the family members who know about your blog would feel differently about it if you were not pseudonymous? I don't mean the few negative stories, but all of it -- the concert bracelet and the games of Monster, and the family traditions. How would they feel if those stories were being published non-pseudonymously?

(Yeah, I'm going to be doing some writing under my own name, and the ethics of it are bugging me a little bit.)

Nels P. Highberg said...

Jo(e), I may take this and revise it a bit to talk about why I switched from a pseudonym to my own name. But I really wanted to write about your last point about your audience. I understand that you write for other bloggers, but as I point out in my post about all of this, students are reading this. Your blog is very popular among some of my students! I know they read you and other people who may not be writing for students but who are being read by them.

jo(e) said...

Phantom: My daughter is the only person in the family who reads my blog, but everyone in the family knows about it. I don't think they care whether or not I use my real name. (Okay, I just asked my three boys and two extras how they would feel ... they all just shrugged. Boy in Black was a little hesistant, "It would change things. I think maybe you should be careful how much real stuff you put on the internet.")

When my youngest sister stumbled on my blog, I told her that I felt a little bad that I had written stuff about our brother, and she said,"Why would you feel bad? It's all true."

Of course, the one person I was worried about reading the blog was my brother, and he did end up finding it and reading an entry about himself. In a way, that was a relief. I don't like to feel like I am hiding the blog from anyone.

My family knows that I plan to write a kids' book that will be loosely based on us -- our family traditions,etc -- and they are all fine with that.

Now that my parents have a computer, I have thought about giving the blog URL to my mother because I know she would love reading it. But I want to think through that decision out first. My parents are from a different generation, and I am not completely sure how they might react to the blog.

jo(e) said...

Nels: Oh, that is interesting. I don't think of undergraduate students as being part of my audience. They are a quiet audience! Many of my own students would probably like to read my blog, but I have been hesistant to reveal it to my students. I figure that once I give up my pseudonymity, I can't get it back.

I imagine that undergraduates who clink through from your blogroll would at least be familiar with blogging as a genre, even if they are not bloggers themselves. That's different than a brand new student in one of my classes googling me and finding a post titled "Sex on the Beach."

My daughter -- who is a sophomore in college -- will often talk to me about stuff I've written on my blog and it's always cool to get her perspective.

DaniGirl said...

Very interesting conversation! While I am pseudo-pseudonymous, most of my friends, family, colleagues and even management where I work know about blog... sometimes I wish I could be a little bit more open, but blog is such a big part of who I am now, I can't imagine not talking about it or the blog community with everyone.

And I got a free trip out to BC courtesy of management, while I was tentatively the Minister's official ghost blogger - the project fell through, but it's nice to be known as the blog expert around the office.

When I first started blogging, I wasn't using my sons' real names, but I couldn't stand writing about them using the fake names - it felt wrong.

Seeking Solace said...

Thanks for the meme. When I first began blogging I was outed by someone whom I did not get along with at work. So anonymity for me is a big issue.

BTW, I always thought you were from the same state where I am!

Another Damned Medievalist said...

How funny -- I blogged on some of this this morening, but wish I'd seen your meme first. OTOH, I hadn't meant to talk about what I ended up talking about when I started the post.

Bardiac said...

What a fascinating post.

I'm especially interested by your reasons for posting pseudonymously. They make good sense, especially in creating a space within which your primary audience is other bloggers.

Thanks for a great read.

Sarah Sometimes said...

The student thing is what bothers me a little bit, as I wrote, coincidentally, in a post yesterday, not knowing anything about this whole Jeff Rice-inspired brouhaha and discussions about pseudonymity. I like what Nels has to say about students, in his comments above and also in the post on his blog. From reading ianqui's comment above, I learned that you can prevent the search engines from indexing you. I have tried to do this, although I'm not sure I have been successful.

Queen of West Procrastination said...

This whole pseudonymity discussion is so fascinating to me, because I'm hardly pseudonymous, and my blog is hardly Google-proof. Back at my old university, this didn't matter, as I started blogging as part of a larger group of friends, many of whom blog under their full names (including my husband). My parents read my blog, as a method of keeping up with what I'm doing lately.

But sometimes I wish I was a little more pseudonymous, and that mine was a blog that only bloggers read. My parents are really private people, and it bothered them enough that I have a large group of friends with whom I'm really open and emotionally vulnerable. Now I'm doing that on the internet? Where anyone can read about my neuroses and the amount of time I spent procrastinating?

At least you can't find my blog by googling my married name, and people out here at my new grad school only know me by that name. Somehow, that makes me a little more comfortable.

Ahistoricality said...

The questions are a bit more challenging to someone who blogs both under a pseudonym and a professional identity.... but I gave it a try. [corrected URL]

Scrivener said...

I have been busy and then out of town, so I haven't followed all of this discussion as closely as I might have liked to, but this is absolutely the best response I have seen to Jeff Rice's piece so far. I love that you responded bloggily.

gingajoy said...

i have just come across your blog via Dean Dad. Thanks for this post, and the meme. as a fellow pseudonymed blogger in academe, this gives a great way to think about these identity issues. i'm going to stab at the meme tomorrow:)

Rana said...

Excellent post!

Sadly, it's main effect on me was to inspire me to write some truly appalling "lyrics" on my own blog. Good thing I'm pseudonymous! *wink*

Anonymous said...

i must confess i totally thought you were in maine.

halloweenlover said...

Your name isn't really Jo(e)? I'm so upset.

This is great. I feel much the same way. I mostly blog anonymously so that clients wouldn't come up with my blog if/when they google me. They don't need to know intimate secrets about me. Although it is fine if perfect strangers do!

1974punkmom said...

I will post on this one myself. Thanks for the meme! These are things I have really been pondering of late.