Why Multiple Online Personas’ Are Important.
by Ann Zeise
I dropped into a homeschool chat wearing my “wrong” name for that chat room. I was GoMilpitas and I usually appear as A2ZHmsCool. One friend recognized the GoMilpitas name from my website and asked, “A2, is that you?” I quickly changed into my proper persona for that chat.
Why was this so important? All my online names represent me, but in different ways. GoMilpitas, or “Go” for short, is my civic persona. She is a typical Chamber of Commerce member and civic booster and sometimes critic. She helps small businesses and non-profits get online. A2ZHmsCool is a homeschool mom and website developer. She is known online as someone to turn to for homeschool and web design and marketing advice. There’s also older “me” online: Anaise. She’s bright, funny, spicy and herbal; loves to really stir up a room. She’s semi-retired now, as she was getting far too much spam and the other personas take up too much time. Then there’s annzeise who participates mostly in internet forums.
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Does it sound like I have a multiple personality disorder?
I just choose to simplify or bring out certain aspects of my total personality in certain places where it is more appropriate to behave in one way or the other. Anaise may tell off-color jokes that Go and A2 never will! Go, however, likes political jokes and A2 likes jokes about parenting and kids.
As I look back over my nearly 13 years online, I realize that I also integrated into my real self the more interesting persons I was portraying online. I wasn’t so bold 13 years ago. I didn’t know that people could appreciate my humorous attitude about life. I didn’t know I could be entertaining, thought wise or sexy, in a nice way. You couldn’t have paid me to write! It was as if I could practice being more adventurous online before I implemented the change in my real life.
I’ve watched this happen to other people as well, for both good and bad. Some people show an evil or mean side online that I hope they would never show in their offline communities. These “flamers” had better be careful, as sometimes this fictional personality can take over and they’ll behave that way offline, with dire consequences.
In homeschool forums I love to watch the parade of personas that women, mostly, have adapted. There’s the earth mom, who does everything naturally. There’s usually a number who have names to reflect that they homeschool, such as mine. Other personas reflect their value system or religion. I love the humorous personas. There are those from different cultures who like to really play up their regional stereotypes, be they from England or just Los Angeles. I’ll sometimes really play up my geeky Silicon Valley woman side. Often we online homeschoolers portray our children as being far above normal, when in reality, they’ve only just surprised us by suddenly managing to master one thing — finally!
While some like to have a persona that is fairly close to their real life, others often have a great time pretending they are someone else entirely, even to fabricating where they live, their age, and their marital status. Are these people lying or play acting? It is sometimes hard to tell. This is why you have to be rather careful online and try not to be too gullible, though it can be fun to play along with actors, do think of them as such. Computers are theater! Think about it.
Why act? Like novelists say that through writing they can work out concerns and problems in their lives as the characters they invent work through their fictional problems, so through writing online from the point of view of your ideal person, you can work through your own difficulties. It is a cathartic experience. It is also far cheaper than therapy.
Just be kind to others online in the process. Online is a great place to be braver, funnier, kinder, a place where you can express opinions and debate about matters you hadn’t thought about too deeply before. This is why chat, maillists and message boards are attractive. It is oft times easier to test out with online buddies some attitude or attribute you wish you had, and if these characteristics are appreciated, show them more in your real life to those who love you more.