I met a high school girl today when erin and I were going to pick gavin up from his first day of preschool. Mostly she and erin talked, I just quietly carried lilah on my shoulders. She introduced herself (her real name escapes me) and she said something that struck me instantly as a bit curious: “I also go by jinx.”
When I was in high school, I didn’t have a nickname like that. At least, not one I would use to introduce myself. It struck me that it had to be some kind of online handle. And as I started to think about it, I realized that high school for me was a totally different culture. Back then, an online handle was just a handle – simply an identifier on a particular forum or BBS. Most of the chris’s and jen’s and andrew’s were already taken, so it was necessary to use a unique identifier. This gave the thrill of anonymity and possibly creating a unique online persona (or several). Today, however, these kids have never grown up in a world where online didn’t exist, and this affects the ways in which they create their identities. Bloggers, social media gurus, and marketers talk about building your unique brand, but this is something that today’s high school kids get inherently. High school is a time when you start to figure out who you are – in today’s high school that happens…online.
Rather than having a separate identity that you reserve for your online travels, your online persona is merged with your offline persona, such that a nickname that was created for use online, follows you offline and into your daily life.
For me, the name I used online was one that I was playing around with in my offline world. I was already playing around with alternate identities and characters for role playing, and one name I always liked was Raven. I was looking in the dictionary at some point, and stumbled across Raven, with a capital R, defined as “a boy’s given name.” after that, I always thought it was a pretty cool name, so later, I started to attach it to myself, but mostly in writing for ‘zines and letter-writing (yes, these were the days when pen pals actually used pens). I was heavily interested in Egyptian mythology and particularly attracted to Horus, so I signed my name Raven with a Horus eye. Online, that translated into RavenEye (or Raven-I, or Raven with an Eye or RAVENEYE, or other variations).
At school, I was chris. If I ever met anyone I knew from online, however, I became RavenEye. In limited doses I was a bit of an alter-ego. Later, when I went to college, I was just Raven. That was what everyone knew me as, and by then I was used to introducing myself as that.
For me, a nickname I attached to myself started offline, was embedded into chatrooms and listservs online, and then followed me offline again. That process has been shortformed – now, you have an identity you create online which follows into your offline interactions. The subtle difference is that for me, there was always a distinction – these are my online friends – to whom I am RavenEye – and these are my offline friends, who know me as Chris. Going to college, I was followed only by my ex- and she was the only one who still called me Chris. And since leaving, I’ve abandoned the Raven pseudonym as being more just a part of my past. Even the pseudonym I use currently – jazzsequence – is exclusively an online-only thing. I don’t go around saying “hi, I’m jazzsequence” – that would be ridiculous. It was a pairing of words based on another handle I had been using at the time (Fibonacci jazz), that I found to be more interesting than the original that a friend came up with on a forum we were on. It was created online, and has always been exclusively an online thing to me. much more impersonal than even calling myself Raven – much more…of a brand.
I think it’s interesting that more and more we are creating our own identities, but these alternate egos are not separate from ourselves, they are merely another side of ourselves, or even just one of the faces that we put on daily. Facebook has forced us to take responsibility for who we really are by forcing us (well, sort of) to use our own name, so our alternate identities can’t be too far away from the actual truth. And social media has taught us that for anyone to really care enough to pay attention to you, you need to at least seem like a real human being, so you can’t stray too far from the truth at any rate. And everyone wants attention. That’s the point of sharing stuff on Facebook, keeping a blog, and twittering your tweeting heart out.
It shouldn’t surprise me at all, being in the middle of emerging technology and having been plugged into the internet for almost 15 years now, that who you are online would bleed into the real world, I just don’t normally talk to (or, in this case, watch while erin talks to, or rather, is talked at by) high school kids, so it never really occurred to me that this is happening. It poses the question, in another 5 years, will I be talking to someone who introduces themselves as “hi, I’m LonelyGirl15” or “my name’s chiXX0r”?
If so, I better start practicing the proper pronunciation of s3quence…