Twitter, anonymity, and social networking

It hit me today; I have been using the name “Cas” for 13 years. What started out, longer ago than I care to remember, as an RPG character, has become so much more. In many ways it has become my “real” identity. I’ve talked about identity countless times before, so I’m not going to bore you with the detailed arguments again. (Though there are some gems in there, in particular this one, so do go read!).

However, identity is something I find myself reassessing a lot at the moment, with my current job getting my real name more online traction than I am perhaps totally comfortable with. Not being comfortable with my online presence is a new feeling for me. I have always been honest, occasionally brutally so, online. I share details about my life where other people might choose not to. This is how I live my life and it is how I have chosen to live my life. It is vitally important to me that both the bad and the good are talked about. The chances are, if I’ll talk about it over a cup of tea with friends, I will talk about it here on Bright Meadow. Sometimes I will sit on a topic for a while, but most things do get written about eventually.

I also tweet a lot as BrightMeadow.

Over the years I have developed the “Cas” personna into one I am comfortable with online and, in some contexts, offline. Cas is an adorable ditzy klutz with an abiding love of tea and penguins, who finds the humour in most situations, hides insecurity in a sarcastic wit, and who occasionally talks a little bit of sense about topics which interest her.

You would be forgiven for having the an impression that I am totally open about everything. I am not. I self-censor and editorialise constantly. Even though Bright Meadow and Cas are personal and real, everything I post is filtered through the fact that it is ridiculously easy to work out my real name. There are things I will NEVER talk about online, whatever the channel. Just as there are things I won’t talk about offline to anyone but the very closest people.

Most importantly for the purposes of this discussion, is that I do NOT use the Bright Meadow identity for work in any way. If you talk to me on twitter (or here for that matter), you are talking to Cas, not CLK or the company she works for. If you ask me something work related, I nicely, but firmly, direct you to my work email/twitter. I toyed with merging the two for a while, with being “open” about Bright Meadow, but I decided not to at the moment. There is just no way I could blog and tweet the way I do as Bright Meadow whilst retaining the professional air required for work. Most of the time I actually like the small amount of separation I have maintained – it is good that work and play are distinct.

The boundary between personal and work is blurry, but it is there and I know it. Before I say anything I always gut-check and, if doubt, I won’t publish. Yes, my tone is often frivolous, but it is always carefully considered. On the blog this might be obvious: the Girls & Geeks piece was rewritten 21 times, and languished in draft state for over a week before I pressed publish. This very post has been kicking around in my brain, and various draft states, for nearly two years. (That’s not even the longest – the dyslexia piece took five years). On twitter it is less obvious but trust me, every word and retweet is carefully considered.

I like to think this is partly what makes me so fun to talk to on twitter and has helped keep this blog going as long as it has.

That very longevity and success, however, has led to my current dilemma – the overlapping communities of followers I have. I have been using twitter since pretty much the start and as I have always been involved with publishing to one degree or another, a LOT of the people I follow and talk with are in that field. I am fortunate to work in an industry full of lovely, talkative people, who like to network just as much as I do. Such interlinking networks is a natural result of having work and your personal interests overlap as much as mine do. I’m not sure how to work any other way. The thing is, in the last year or so I have reached the point where the people I have been talking to for years as Cas, I need to connect with as CLK…

As mentioned above, I am firm on the personal/professional divide when it comes to social media. Not to mention it seems sort of skanky to try and trade on that connection – to go up to someone and go “Hi, we’ve been talking for years on Twitter, now I am going to ambush you for work”.

So not my style.

But it’s hard, really hard sometimes, when someone I class as a “friend-of-Cas” completely blanks CLK. More times than I care to admit I want to send them a message and go “but you love me!!!!” There are also times when I’m engaging online as Cas and get looked down on, when I want to whip out the CLK card and go “but you were asking my opinion yesterday!!!!!

Not to mention now every time I meet someone new (if they are in publishing), I have to decide if I want to trust them with the “real” identity behind Bright Meadow.

These aren’t issues unique to me, and I do not claim to have any answers. Nor is it exactly a question unique to social media, because we all have various negotiated identities and interlocking networks of connections, and have done since we first sat down round a fire and gossiped with our fellow cave-dwellers. What social media and our hyper-connected lives do is amplify those networks and give a perception of impermanence to what we say that masks their underlying permanence. A tweet is scrolled into oblivion within minutes, but its shadow remains in a Google cache forever. Where once we went home and could bitch to our family/friends about our coworkers, now we are all following each other on Twitter and Facebook and Tumblr and god knows where else and it is all too easy for words to have unintended consequences.

Once upon a time no one would have heard my opinions of that Women’s Hour programme but the colleague who was unlucky enough to phone me just after it aired. Thanks to the miracle of blogging and twitter, it got picked up and read by (among others) people I’d mentioned in the article… Gulp. All to the good, and knowing that was likely to happen did focus my writing REALLY well, but there were also arguments/evidence I couldn’t use because they fell on the wrong side of the Cas/CLK divide.

We are encouraged to open up, and share with everyone, but we often don’t think of the possible implications until they bite us in the bum. In one regard I am fortunate that I started the process of curating my online identity early and I am proud of what I have built. The flip side of that coin is that I have to be hyper-careful about what I say and yes, this has led me to being silent on certain topics and sometimes I have to build from scratch professional connections I already have personally. It is a small price to pay, I guess. I have drawn a line in the sand that (currently) works for me. It isn’t perfect and I can’t imagine that my solution will work for everyone/anyone else, but it is a compromise I can live with.

Side question – at what point does as pseudonym become a nickname?

I see people… Pretty people…

I am getting back into the writing groove (sort of) and I am determined to keep the novel going forward. It is inching its way slowly onwards. Part of that inching is to really get the character list pinned down and to work out, at least roughly, what happens.

Now, most of what I have written in the past has been sci-fi/fantasy and whilst I have had an idea in my head roughly what characters look like (hair colour, skin tone, eye colour at a push, tall/short etc), I have never felt the need to have an actual image of each character. It’s just not how I see people, or characters – when I read, I don’t have a photo in my mind of what they look like. I simply have the feel of the person. Ask me to describe someone I’ve met and know well and I can’t do it. Yet I know without a doubt who that person is. And that, up till now, has followed into my writing.

The current WIP however is set very much in the real world and, for some reason, I have found myself needing a physical image to build the characters around. I still know clearly in my head the feel of Bob, and his characteristics, mannerisms, and how he interacts with the world, but central to it all is a photo of Bob. Strange, and a little weird for me to get used to writing this way, but that’s how it’s flowing this time around.

To facilitate this, I have a folder of character bios in Scrivener with a mug shot for each character. These are mainly images I have found on the internet and gone “oh, that’s Bob!” or Lizzie. Or Sarah. Or John. Some are famous people, others are just random people. I just spent a merry ten minutes uploading these images to a private board on Pinterest so I have a quick and easy way of checking character info when I am away from Scrivener (i.e., at Wednesday Writing each week on the iPad), and it was quite an eye-opener to see them all spread out in once place.

I noticed a few things in particular:
1) I have a thing for brunettes. Most of my characters are brunette. There’s one ginger chap, a blonde guy, and a blonde girl. That’s it. The rest are various shades of brunette/black. Huh.
2) They are reassuringly of diverse ethnic backgrounds. It’s a small group, but they are not all white. I didn’t do this consciously either, it’s just how it worked out (go me!)
3) For the male characters, I seem to have gone for lots of actors (and one rugby player).
4) For the female characters, I seem to have gone primarily for non-actors.
5) They are all stupidly attractive. I really need to get some ugly/more normal people into this book!

And it is point 3 and 4 which really caught my attention. I seem to have no problem of taking a picture of Michael Fassbender and going “that’s Stuart” and building the whole Stuart character. The one photo becomes STUART’S photo. Nothing of Michael Fassbender, or the characters he has played, carries forward into the character I am writing.

I cannot, however, seem to separate the image of a female actor from the characters she has played, and so I can’t write my own character. I would love to have a character who looked a little bit like Tamara Taylor for example, because she is beautiful. But I can’t. Any character I try to write immediately becomes a really bad copy of Camille Saroyan in Bones.

I don’t know what conclusions to draw from this. I am sure there is a whole branch of some -ology which can explain our relationship to faces and actors and the characters they play and gender and identity… (ooh, that does sound fascinating!) but I don’t have the answers. It just struck me as interesting, that’s all.

What’s in a name?

I do keep coming back to the problem of names and identity and authority, so forgive me if I am repeating myself slightly, but it is an issue that continues to run through my head at different angles. (these are just a few times I’ve approached it in the past).

Our names are one of the most intensely personal things about us. They can form the basis for our whole identity and people can get remarkably possessive over them. Names have magic and power. Cultures around the world have traditions of evil powers taking control over people by the use of their name – witches and wizards. Rumpelstiltskin was banished when his true name was revealed. To this day, many modern religions have taboos over the naming of god, thinking his “true name” is too sacred to speak aloud. Some feel it is considered bad luck to name a child before it is born, whilst in Christian traditions, children are baptised and formally made known to their god.

People often say “that which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet”, but really, Romeo is railing against the inevitable: it is Juliet’s “name that is [his] enemy”. No matter how he might wish it otherwise, they cannot be together because of what they are called. (And part of me suspects that she wouldn’t smell so sweet if calling her a rose didn’t make her so unobtainable).

We obsess over genealogy and family trees and our ancestors. We spend our lives with the names our parents give us, some more fortunately than others. I kid you not, I went to school with a Neil Down and a girl called Muffin. All through my childhood I thanked my parents for giving me a name that could not become a nickname, despite people’s best efforts to the contrary. At the same time, part of me does think it would be nice to have a nickname because they are signs of affection. Someone did call me Mercedes and refused to explain when others got confused. It was a joke between me and him and it felt all the more special for that.

In the end, I have given myself a nickname of sorts – Cas. The first few times someone said “do you want a cup of tea Cas?” and used the name to my face, it felt slightly odd, but I like it. What started out as just a way of keeping my ‘real’ identity secret, has become something more. Something I am very, very attached to. It has become a concrete identity in the last few years, crossing over from online mask to reality, and a name with its own weight of Bright Meadow and whatever attached authority has accrued, behind it.

Cas and CLK are now firmly linked – google one and you get the other, something which was a semi-conscious decision on my part. As the online became so intertwined with my offline life, it became harder and harder to keep the two separate, so I gave in gracefully and claimed as much of the CLK identity online as I could. It is still something I debate constantly though, and there are instances where I wish it hadn’t happened. There are times I wish my father didn’t read Bright Meadow, but at the same time, I do not like compartmentalising my life to the degree it would have required to keep it all apart.

So I tread a fine line between Cas and CLK, online and offline. Most of the time the two aren’t even distinct entities. Cas wears jeans to the office and has awesome tattoos, but it is CLK who answers the phones, draws up the contracts and is a consummate professional.

Names are important, clearly. Names of people, names of things. Names become brands and authorities and you build trust in a particular name. Which is where I finally get to my (sort of) point:

If, and it is a BIG if, I do ever finish what I am writing and go down the path of publishing, do I want my author-part to be linked to the rest? Do I want the world and their shark to hop from CLK the author, to Cas and Bright Meadow and all the attached kit’n’kaboodle? Or do I want something completely fresh, without a history. Do I want to write under a pseudonym? Is publisher CLK compatible with author X? I can hear a future editor yelling at me for tipping a whole pre-built brand down the toilet here, but is Bright Meadow a legacy an author could be proud of? Note, I am not saying *I* am not proud of it, but would it help or hinder in that sphere?

I stand by everything I have said on this blog, but I can think of more than a few things in the archives which would get one audience or another hot under their conservative collars. As an author, would I not also be entitled to a part of the web where I *could* unload and talk about the price of tea, if I so wished, without feeling the pressure of my audience? If CLK was to get published, Bright Meadow would come out regardless. I am not ready to loose this place as my sanctuary.

But do I want to create a whole NEW identity for my writing? I want to talk about it, god damn it! If it were ever to happen, getting a book published would be like the biggest blog event EVA!!!!! and to not share it with you lot here? Unthinkable. I want to think that one day someone from school might see “CLK” on the spine of a book in a bookshop and be jealous/proud.

For now, my gut reaction is gurgling “pseudonym” but am I right? Am I being silly? Am I being dishonest to my family, denying them seeing Kemp in print, refusing to connect part of my (potential) accomplishment to the name they graced me with when I was brought into this world. To go for a pseudonym, is that not saying “CLK is not good enough”?

I Am What I Am Not *repost*

The following is reposted from my back-up blog, BM2. Whilst it is not the most cheerful thing I have ever written, it is part of me, and it feels wrong not to have it in the proper archives.

What follows is one of those times when blogging for me really is therapy. Feel free to look away now.

All my adult like I have been struggling not to be defined by what happened when I was 14. I refuse to base my personality on some thing that happened because a doctor refused to make a house call. But, no matter how hard I fight not to be defined soley by what I don’t have – what got taken away; what I had no choice or control over – there is inescapably part of who I am now that is because of it. I am who I am, to some extent, because of what happened when I was 14 and all that followed after.

It is not a conscious decision exactly, but I am the type of adult I am because – possibly – the traditional female role as incubator of the next generation is denied me. Or at the very least made a lot less likely.

I never wanted kids. Even “Before” I never was one of those to play with dolls or to be the “mummy” when we played grown-ups. I identified with George in the Famous Five, not Anne. I went through puberty with the knowledge something was a little bit wonky with my insides and it affected my outlook more than a touch. I looked at alternate pathways. The alt-pathway is so much more fun so I’m not unduly upset, I will hasten to add. 2.4 still doesn’t hold much appeal.

I am trying to express something that is not all that clear to me. Do I say I don’t want kids because the biological chances are slimmer and I am in self preservation mode, or because I really don’t want kids?

Why am I thinking on this now?

Because after ten years I have finally wrested a diagnosis from the doctors and that diagnosis is PCOS.

I have been tottering around some sort of diagnosis for years, but for the past six months I have been undergoing the latest in a long (and slow) running barrage of tests and explorations all designed to ascertain really how fucked my reproductive system is. We know it is screwed at least halfway round the thread, but is it tightened all the way down, that is the question?

I was dreading actually getting a diagnosis. I couldn’t put my finger quite on why till I forced myself to realise it is because I am not sure I really want to know. Getting answers means – well – it means you have answers. An answer of “actually, all is normal and tickety boo” peversely would still throw me as much as a “you’re totally screwed Ms Kemp”, because the former means I have no excuse. “I can’t” is somehow more acceptable than “I don’t want”. “Don’t want” just makes people smirk knowingly and count down the days till you conceive. Plus, “don’t want” makes you look selfish. “Can’t” gets sympathy.

“Can’t” and “look at other options” are part of my identity now.

Much though I thought I would not define myself by a negative, I am defined in my own head partly by my (potential) inability to bear children. To be told I actually could would, bizarrely, take away a crutch and force me to reevaluate my self out of my comfortable hole. Then again, the alternate diagnosis of “oh shit…” is not exactly a comforting prospect either. “Oh Shit” forces you to deal with different problems. To have it confirmed means… I don’t know what it means.

Basically, ignorance is bliss but my mum told me to get to the bottom of the matter and I am a good girl, so I am doing as I am told. A tentative PCOS diagnosis two years ago was nice. The assorted symptoms fit and it explained a lot but didn’t confirm/deny anything so I was still in blissful limbo land. The doctor (and my mum) wanted a final set of scans to make sure.

So I got the first scan only to be told the “Oh shit” option.

Turns out? The “Oh Shit” isn’t much fun either. It is never a good sign when the radiologist goes silent and mutters “oh dear…” under her breath. Oh goes “Wow…” when measuring bits and pieces on the screen. Turns out a 6.5 cm cyst is not the best thing to have. What would have been nicer is that she could even have found the other ovary at all, but it is probably just very good at hiding.

That’s it. No “worry/don’t worry” just a “my Grandma, what big cysts you’ve got”, which completely looped me out. Of course the NHS website is very soothing about these things and logic dictates if it was seriously worrying I wouldn’t have to wait 6 weeks for a follow up, but even my basic understanding of biology leads me to think an unexplained lump 6.5 cm big anywhere in your body is not a good thing to have.

At the end of the first scans I was further down the Oh Shit branch of reasoning and – you know what? – it is not that comforting after all to have a decade of suspicion reinforced. It would have been nice to have it all over-turned and be forced to reevaluate myself as a “have options” girl instead of firm up the “no chance” argument. Save me from pity. Save me from myself. Save me from my brain hurtling round my head at a gazillion miles, with none of the stations it is likely to stop at looking particularly inviting. I am making a mountain out of a (fairly) large cyst, I know that, but experience tells me to plan for the worst. I am reaching hatch-battening time and dear god I think it is going to be a big storm.

I got the results of the second scan and, as expected, PCOS is where things are at. All things considered, it was more a storm in an extra-large Starbucks mug than anything else. Still stormy, but it could have been one hell of a lot worse.

All the way through I was convinced that ignorance and “who the frack knows what is going on in there?” were bliss. I would rather have kept at the guessing stage than the whirlygig my thoughts and emotions have been on lately. But now I actually do know what is going on, I am rather comforted. As there was never any chance of a “you are normal” diagnosis, the diagnosis I have been handed is about as “nice” as could have been expected. On the scary scale we are talking a PG as opposed to a full on straight-to-video 18+ it could have been.

Labeling things is so very satisfying I find. Once you name something, you set limits on it, make it definable, approachable, surmountable.

I can see a way forward now. I know my options and I know what I have to do. At the same time I don’t like it confirmed that from now on I am the girl without her health. My body is making it very hard to be anything other than the girl who defines herself by what she hasn’t got. I am rapidly becoming the girl I never wanted to be. The girl who others pity. Seriously, if I was a dog you would have had me put out of my misery by now!

I saw the speech therapist the other week and we got to the bit of the consultation where you have to list your medical history. Ten minutes and several pages of notes later, she said “My, that’s quite a lot to have happened in one so young” followed by her being annoyingly (but sweetly) sympathetic and asking if I had had counseling to help. Actually, I have. She asked me if I was angry. I was.

For the longest time I was very, very angry at the doctors, at myself, at the universe, at my family, at everyone. But anger just takes it out of you and now it it is just the situation I have to deal with. Things could be worse, things could be better. Things just are. Why waste your time wishing things were different? This is the life you have to live so you might as well get on and enjoy it.

She says, over and over, because saying something often enough will make it come true.

I have PCOS. Many people have it worse than me. It turns out that the assorted medications I could take to help are, for one reason or another, not suitable for me. Which is a state of affairs that doesn’t surprise me if I am being honest, because I never was one to make it easy on myself. So I am left with lifestyle change and a future that is just so depressingly healthy.

I think that is what is bugging me most now. Oh, for a magic pill I could take to make everything all right and that would let me keep on living life (and eating) as I want to live life and eat. But there is no magic pill. I need to take responsibility for myself, depressingly grown-up though that sounds.

*shrug* It’s all character building, right? If nothing else it means I have things to write about on the blog.

I’ve got some amazing and touching responses to this post – thank you.
If you’re worried you might have PCOS, you have PCOS or you know someone who does, I would recommend you talk to a healthcare professional. There are also lots of very good support groups out there such as Verity in the UK and these in the US.
If you want to talk to me, but don’t want to leave a public comment, please feel free to email me on cas.brightmeadow[at]

Wikis, Screen Names and Authority

On why maybe registration might be a good idea for communities and wikis

The following post is prompted by experiences on many online communities over the years and my own research into wikis. It’s also partly in response to recent occurrences on the Antiquist Wiki where it seems the spammers have been more prolific than the real contributors.

My thanks as always go to Neko for sitting with me on the Common and helping me work through some of this. The ideas are mine, but as with so many of my ideas, she’s been there in the midwife role. As I didn’t start out actively researching this topic with an aim to anything more than making my own mind up, I unfortunately don’t have lots of links and resources to hand – this essay is just the culmination of ideas and experiences that have been brewing in my head for the past few years. However, see the end of the article for a few thought-provoking posts to kick off your own reading.

Due to it’s length (3000+ words), I have made the decision to take the actual content of the post off the front page. I can also provide other formats (txt, doc, pdf and html) at request.

Continue reading

Some further thoughts on Identity

I’ve just got back from having a tea with Neko up at the lab and, along with catching up on all the gossip I’ve missed in the last few months, she made me rethink my approach to identity. It was one of those moments – I was saying something, and it was only as I finished that I realised it was what I truly believed, even though it went slightly contrary to opinions I professed only a little while ago.

We were talking about reasons the Wiki failed to make the splash we wanted it to and pinned it down to two things: Archaeologists are remarkably anti- shiny new technology; and there was no one prodding the conversation to get it going. We both still feel that wikis are great tools to facilitate conversation, but that’s it – they facilitate it, they don’t make the conversation. Just because you have a wiki, it doesn’t mean you’re going to have a great conversation, at least not without a fair degree of input from interested parties.

What continues to excite both of us, however, is the possibility of using wikis in peer-review situations, and in situations were normal open conversation cannot take place. The degree of anonymization inherent in the wiki-engine can be an amazing boon for people who, for whatever reason, want to participate in a discussion, but who fear the consequences of publicly stating their opinions. This potential to democratize academia and discussion gets quite a lot of us jumping up and down going “Woot!”

I made a deal about ‘reputation’ in my previous post, and how this is linked (in academic contexts) primarily to your name. At the time of writing that post, I was coming down on the side of anonymous = bad (at least, = not the ideal), and whilst I still feel this, I am forced to admit that there are situations where anonymity can be a good thing.

For example, in a situation such as a wiki focusing on reviewing new articles (got to escape the closed review-board model of Antiquity at all costs – run away, run away!), you might want to make contributions/comments but you fear the retribution you would get if it was clear it was YOU saying it. Perhaps the author is (a) your supervisor, (b) a god in your field, (c) someone you have to work with, (d) you imagine something. Whilst I am a believer that you should always stand by what you say, there are times when I have only participated in a discussion because of the shield of anonymity given to me by the medium I am using – knowing you can make a fool of yourself and not have it traced back to you (easily) makes it much easier to look your supervisor in the eye!

I still feel that identity, and more importantly truth in identity, is vital, but I’ll freely admit that I missed out a chunk of reasoning for anonymity, or at least pseudonymity.

(I made the above argument for democratization much better in my thesis by the way 😉 )

identity, anonymity, pseudonymity, reputation, freedom of anonymous speech, wiki, democratization, democratization of academia

Some thoughts on Identity

(I was going to be writing a post inspired by the Brainy Snail all about Archaeology and Web 2.0, but I got sidetracked by identity and accessibility. I’ve dealt with accessibility, so I figure if I deal with identity now, *1* I can move on to Web 2.0/Archaeology after that. Well, that’s my cunning plan anyway).

Usernames and pseudonyms have been part of my life since my mid teens when I was introduced to MSN, message boards, and ORP (online role-playing) all at once. I never thought twice about signing into MSN as “Tocasia” at the time – Tocasia was the character I played most, it was how all the people I had on my buddy-list knew me, and it was fun to be something other than plain Claire for a while. Like countless other bullied and shy teenagers, I turned to D&D and the Internet as a way of escaping a life that, at the time, wasn’t a bundle of laughs. I was fortunate. Playing a character, and chatting to others from behind a mask comprised of the anonymity of the Internet, helped me to gain a new sense of identity, and gave me some stable foundations on which I was able to rebuild (up to a point) my shattered self-esteem. To this day I regret nothing about the years I floated around the WotC boards. I slew dragons, became mayor (long story), pulled pints (even longer story), and made friends with people I would have never had the courage to talk to otherwise. Even now there are occasions when I am in a situation that scares the crap out of me, and to get through it I go, “how would Cas handle this?” There are people who still call me “Cas” to my face and I am fine with this – Cas, I always say, is the better half of Claire.

As I have grown older, however, I have come to appreciate more and more the flaws in this argument. The world in which we live in, especially the academic world in which I spend my days, invests a lot of time and effort in the idea of reputation, and reputation is inextricably linked to identity. The argument goes that you need identity to hold proper conversations – I need to be able to hang everything I already know about you from past conversations on the you-shaped blob in my mind that I identify as “Jim”. It doesn’t necessarily matter that “Jim” isn’t the name on your checkbook, but I need to be able to associate the Jim I am talking to now with Jim whose papers I have read, because it is from these papers that I get an idea of Jim’s reputation, and hence how to interact with him.

To this end, a name becomes your passport. It is generally assumed that, whilst there might be many John Smiths’, there will be only one John Smith born to particular parents at a particular time and place. This name is then attached to everything you write and say, becoming a short-hand to place ideas and research. If I hold a conversation with my supervisor and say “S. Jones, 2004” he will immediately know what article I mean, and with that the whole weight of Jones’ ideas will be brought into the conversation. I could also mention that Dr. W. Bailey has a new book out, and we might all burst out laughing – we have identified in our minds the Bailey I’m talking about, we know his reputation as a bit of an idiot, so we automatically assume that his new work will be more of the same. This might be unfair to Dr. Bailey, but it is the point of reputation – I have two books to choose from, Jones’ and Bailey’s, and only time to read one. I will, every time, choose Jones’ because I know from past experience that the person I identify in my mind as Jones knows what she is talking about, whilst Bailey is a bit of a hair-do.

What would happen if Jones decided to get married and changed her name to reflect this? Suddenly I am faced with a new article by a Dr. S. Watson. If I am unaware that Dr. S. Jones and Dr. S. Watson are one and the same, I am much less likely to treat Watson with the same respect, at least till “Watson” has rebuilt her reputation in my mind. It is a common complaint that women feel their identities are swallowed up by their husbands’ when they marry. This is not just womanly fancy. It is, up to a point, true.

The same holds true, to a degree, for conversations and personal interactions. The currency of friendship and intimacy is a reciprocal, gradual revealing of personal information, that most often starts with name and location. Your name is the thing upon which hangs everything else I know about you. It is no accident people name-drop. We are social creatures and one way we gage how “important” another person is, is by finding out who they know in turn. If they know intelligent/popular/powerful people then they in turn must have some worthwhile attributes. Cool by association, while shallow and harsh, is how a lot of things work.

Our culture also has embedded “identity norms” about authenticity in personal interactions, and one of these is the assumption that the person I am talking to is who they claim to be. Legal name may be irrelevant in many cases – so long as I have some form of name for you – but verification is not. I need to know that the MickeyMouse I am talking to now is the same MickeyMouse I was talking to earlier on, who has the associated “MickeyMouse reputation” in my head.

All the time then, we carry a picture of a person in our heads, and the name by which we know them is frequently the best handle by which to grasp, and hence organise, that information. So what happens in situations on the Internet where anonymity and pseudonymity are touted as the norm?

(I will be using myself as a case study here).

I have already mentioned how I came early to the idea of a second pseudonymous identity. By the time I was at university, I was referred to as “Cas” in the majority of online contexts, and my (online) reputation was starting to get inextricably linked in peoples minds with that identity. At the same time, I was taking baby steps into the world of archaeological academia. Due to the existence of another “CK” in the faculty, I made the conscious decision to start using my second name again. (What people assume is my middle name is actually a second forename that I just don’t use). Four years later, and “CLK” is also starting to garner a reputation and make an identity.

When I started keeping a regular online journal, which later morphed into Bright Meadow, there was no contest – it was online, so I was ‘Cas’. I wanted a separation between my offline and my online identities and saw no reason for the two to overlap. As time has progressed, however, especially in the past six months as my online and offline activities have started to converge, I have started to wonder at the wisdom of this.

There are many reasons why one might want to be anonymous or assume a pseudonym (Marx has written a great paper on this), but if there isn’t honesty in identification, then there should at least be honesty in indicating that a pseudonym is used. With obvious pseudonyms such as “Moose” or “the Cute Canadian” this isn’t a problem. The problem comes, I feel, when you use a name such as “Cas”, which is too much like a real name.

I find myself engaging in conversations through email and IM with individuals who think that “Cas” is my real identity. They want to commission Cas to do a piece of work, and then get confused when they have to pay “CLK”.

I think my point is, at what point in a relationship do I reveal that the pseudonym that people have got to know me under is just that, a nom de guerre for CLK? Is it possible to maintain a working relationship with people in such a pseudononymous environment? Clearly up to a point it is, as shown by the prevalence of authors writing under pen-names. Robin Hobb used “Megan Lindholm” when she was just starting out, whilst, Ruth Rendell uses “Barbara Vine” to distinguish her genres, as does Iain Banks/Iain M. Banks. Voltaire was just a pen-name, and the Bronte sisters were first published under psuedonyms to avoid the stigma they felt was attached to their gender. But to operate, the ‘secret’ of these peoples identities surely has to be known to at least a few people (you would hope their editor, if no one else). Just look at the recent kurffle that is happening in the states over the revelation that James Frey apparently made up huge portions of his memoirs (never mind the lingering doubts over his/her identity). How can I parlay “Cas” and “Bright Meadow” into a successful online brand, when the business-sphere with all that is implied in terms of money and contracts, relies very heavily on accountable, traceable, and ‘real’ identities.

Corollary to this point is the question I am struggling to answer for myself – do I really want to keep the Cas and the CLK identities separate? As far as papers written for archaeological academia are concerned, I am CLK all the way, no debate. When I blog, or write an online article, then I am Cas, again, no question about it. But, and this is where I am getting a little stuck, do I want to meld the two identities so that people researching my CLK work also discover my Cas work (and visa versa)? Or do I want Cas and CLK to be kept distinct (as much as possible). Would it harm, or possibly enhance, my reputation as CLK if it became widely know that I blogged (& wrote) as Cas? Part of the joy of blogging for me is that I am able to truly express my opinions free from academic constraints. For example, not having to back up my arguments with ten different pieces of evidence, is rather liberating. At the same time, throughout my blogging you can trace the development of ideas, many of which found their way (in highly altered form) into my thesis. Bright Meadow, and my other online writings, could be seen as a playground for my thoughts – those that survive the bullying of the Internet are worthy to be developed further. As such, fellow academics would surely benefit from reading what Cas has written on top of my more traditional material. Conversely, readers of Cas might be more willing to sit still and listen if they were also aware of the work of CLK – it might serve to show that I’m not making this all up, or talking out of my hat, but that there is a brain lurking under the hood somewhere.

Then again, to many, the knowledge that I blog could be construed as trivializing my academic work. This holds especially true in my field where the majority are suspicious of anything involving the new-fangled technology of the Internet – if it hasn’t been peer-reviewed and sourced to the nth degree, then it casts doubts on your reputation as a ‘serious’ academic. At the moment, it doesn’t take Colombo to put 2 + 2 together to get CLK = Cas, but it does take a modicum of understanding of how the Internet works, and a willingness to sift through search results that are displayed on page 10 of a Google search, not page 1. More than having to know where to look, you have to know to look in the first place.

I genuinely have no idea which is the better course of action, and as usual, writing this post has thrown up more questions than I can answer, but if individuals really are the new group, then this question of identity is only going to gain in importance, not diminish.

*1*“Deal” here meaning “talk about”. I don’t think any one post can ever ‘deal’ with Identity. Rather I hope just to make y’all think for a moment.Back

Further reading:
Kevin Kelly, More anonymity is good
Bruce Schneier, Anonymity Won’t Kill the Internet
Mitch Ratcliffe, Making Wikipedia Better, Part II
Gary T. Marx, What’s in a Name? Some Reflections on the Sociology of Anonymity
Stowe Boyd, Individuals Are The New Group

And the post that kicked my brain into action:
Ross Mayfield, Freedom of Anonymous Speech
identity, anonymity, pseudonymity, reputation, individuals, individuals new group, freedom of anonymous speech