Dance of the Infinite Veils II

February 8, 2007

In the first portion of the “veils” discussion, I refer to two Chronicle articles about the personae one needs to put on in the classroom and for finding employment. I also mention a posting by Siva Vaidhyanathan in his blog that expresses skepticism about Google’s new customizable search history service, which made me consider the online personae that others develop for you.

Since starting this blog, I have considered writing about my experiences with MySpace, which ranged from initial enthusiasm to disillusionment. However, it seems like part of a broader issue related to the development of an online persona… or personae, in some cases. Several bloggers have recently discussed this issue within the context of “professionalism,”so I feel compelled to describe my own experiences in MySpace and beyond.

On a librarian discussion list last March, several people talked about developing MySpace accounts to get “more connected” with their younger constituencies. It sounded like an interesting idea, so I started one of my own. My original intentions may have been good, but I drifted away from using it as a way to increase my “visibility.” Instead of dutifully informing students and faculty in my subject areas about my account in MySpace, I ended up using MySpace to connect with others who shared similar interests, and to find people I knew from high school and college. To help viewers of my profile, I mentioned bits of personal background and interests on my profile. As a result, I shied away from my original intention for starting the MySpace account. I did not feel comfortable with the prospect of sharing the “real” me with students and faculty. I also kept my current place of employment unlisted, just to reduce the potential for sleuthing so that people could figure out my identity. However, I provided just enough information so that people who already knew me could do so.

I ended up joining quite a good number of groups (and even starting a few) related to my interests. Unfortunately, many of these groups did not seem worth checking very often; the bulk of them would have too few postings, a large number of insubstantial postings, and vindictive threads started by “trolls” (especially in groups with tons of postings). Only a few provided good venues for thoughtful discussion. With the diversity of opinions held by people in some groups, it sharpened my writing skills. As part of a semi-public forum, it behooved me to write thoughtful and substantive postings.

Although I liked the social networking possibilities of MySpace, I became disillusioned with it over time. I occasionally got into counterproductive debates with people who simply held different opinions, which I found exhausting (especially when they would get personal). I also found my eventual cadre of online “friends” rather slim. A good number of other people seemed to have lots of friends (real and imaginary), while I had a scattering of people I already knew. Along with the very few whom I did not know, but who probably found me because of common interests, my friend count fell just short of 20 by the time I left. Rather disturbing, the idea of a “friend count.” However, I wondered what was wrong with me. Stuff I had said? My age (33)?

Eventually, I decided to eliminate the MySpace persona I had created. It seemed too much like high school all over again, and I certainly did not want to repeat that whole experience. Besides the resurfacing of adolescent feelings of insecurity, as well as concerns that I did not really “fit in,” the whole thing just had an overall air of immaturity about it. I managed to have some interesting conversations sometimes, but it just became more and more apparent that MySpace belongs to those several years younger than me. On the other hand, maybe the “almost-real-me” (a-r-m) persona I cultivated in MySpace did not fit in with that social networking site’s ethos.

Maybe I could do it all over again with a more suitable a-r-m persona for MySpace, but I’m not sure that I want to do so. Now that I have started a blog, I prefer that over social networking, and I prefer the a-r-m persona on my blog over the bloated one I had in MySpace. Nevertheless, I do have another avatar floating around MySpace. I named her after the main character of a novel that has gestated in my head for several years, and she occasionally peers in on conversations and profiles as a kind of spectral presence.

In my blog, I reveal different things about myself than I did in MySpace. “The Strange World of…” heading has links to photographs from flickr accounts set up by my wife and me, as well as a listing of some personal interests. However, I remain silent about my educational background and current employment (even though someone could very easily figure that all out). I prefer to maintain the semi-anonymity I had in MySpace, mainly because of the difficulty of arbitrarily parsing out my professional and personal lives. My personal experiences inform my professional opinions, and professional thoughts can seep into my personal life. Fortunately, I have discovered that I’m not the only one trying to find that delicate balance. Several of my favorite bloggers, including Steve Lawson, Mark Lindner, and Jennifer Macaulay), write about the problematic aspects of separating the professional from the personal.

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7 Responses to “Dance of the Infinite Veils II”

  1. Mark Says:

    Jason, I also have a MySpace account. The only reason is because my son sent me a very special “invitation” after we had not been speaking for 18-20 months. That story can be found on my blog. I do not much care for MySpace and I do little there, but I have done some, and most of that is more personal. But I am in no way trying to hide it.

    My 33 “friends” are my kids, my actual friends from library school (local and distance), one friend’s cat, my (much) younger sister, a couple bands, and a biblioblogger or two. Oh, and a publisher. Definitely stretching the concept of “friend” for me, seeing as I hold a very Aristotelian view of friendship, but without the sexism and elitism.

    If a future employer wants to look around and see my reply to a tattooing survey, or that I like a musical artist named Bif Naked, or that I once in a while do one of those silly quizzes as a bulletin. Well, so what. If that is the sort of stuff that will keep me from getting a job then, as I said elsewhere, our profession (and country) are in very serious trouble.

    I do agree that the whole “friend count” is inane, and even destructive to many. Facebook is, of course, no better. I recently read Jessamyn West (librarian.net) talk about helping her Mom discover that she has “fans” on del.icio.us. I really didn’t know what she was talking about, but a few days later as I was working out some of my own del.icio.us issues I discovered that I had “fans,” too. What a stupid concept! A few of those folks are my friends and acquaintances and the only one I don’t know personally is another biblioblogger. So, I guess that for del.icio.us anyone who has any interest in what you are tagging is a “fan.” Seems to me that social software is doing its best to destroy our language.

    As for balance, I sure wish I even knew what that was. 😉 But bless you for trying and continuing to learn and grow!

  2. Jason Says:

    It would be pretty sad if one didn’t get hired on the basis of tattoos, Bif Naked, or anything else that isn’t even illegal. Unfortunately, I have found quite a few discussions where some people simply accept the fact that employers look at online profiles, and that they base hiring decisions upon what they find. Even if it isn’t illegal, it sounds pretty sneaky and ethically wrong. (Or, to paraphrase a line I vaguely recall from one of the Rumpole stories, there’s a difference between law and justice.) If enough stories come out about such practices, and if otherwise qualified candidates were not hired based on “naughty things” in their online profiles, I could see the Supreme Court eventually getting involved. If that happens anytime in the near future, I could see such practices being sanctioned, albeit with the current exceptions related to discrimination.

    I haven’t gotten on the deli.icio.us bandwagon, mainly because I had no clue what it was until my wife explained it to me. Having bookmarks available online sounds useful, but the “fan” idea sounds pretty bad. What, have we all become celebrities now? If so, where’s my money?

    As for balance, I’m working on it. I probably won’t get there, being a bit unbalanced, but I suppose it’s a noble effort.

  3. Mark Says:

    Oh, I’m not advocating becoming too balanced, Jason. We all need a little bit of abnormality or of being a tad unbalanced to even be interesting; unless you intend to disappear into the woodwork. 😉


  4. […] In my two “Dance of the infinite veils” postings from a few weeks ago (on 7 and 8 February), I followed the lead of several posters in the biblioblogosphere who pondered online personae. A […]

  5. Stacie Says:

    One of my dance professors appeared in a production of Ruth St. Denis Dance of the 7 Veils. She was a student at the Denishawn School in LA. It was even captured on film!
    It would be nice if she created a Very Nice, sweet old lady online persona for herself! It would be great contrast to her mean, Dr. Jekyll Ms. Hyde dance teacher persona. I’m not trying to get a job teaching dance anywhere big anymore, so I can say that online now!


  6. […] my blog, so anyone who really cares can figure it out. Still, for reasons I outline in an earlier posting, this seems like the best approach for my […]


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