Most people who know me in person (what some people refer to as “in real life”) don’t know that I have an online alter ego. Participating in a social networking site like Facebook does not mean you have an online alter ego (unless the people you are “friends” with are people you’ve never met in person). Your online alter ego is the person you are to people you have “met” online and even befriended online and had arguments with online but have never met in person.
I try, believe it or not, to make my online alter ego as much like the in-person me as possible, but somehow people who “meet” alter ego me don’t always react to me the same way in-person people do. A number of factors contribute to the difference in reactions:
- Whether we admit it or not, when we meet people in person, we judge them by how they look—and not just their facial features: we judge them by physical stature, mannerisms, gestures, tonal inflections, eye movements, and other social cues.
- Online venues tend to cut down on a lot of the small talk that happens in in-person social situations. People online have shared with me their sleeping habits, political opinions, sexual orientations, pet peeves, angers, and joys without asking me where I went to school or how long I’ve lived in the Bay Area.
- Online venues offer anonymity, which leads to more honesty… and sometimes unwarranted abuse.
- Written language allows you to put more thought into what you say. You can edit, you can proofread, and you can mull over before anyone even has an idea that you are even considering offering an opinion.
You’d think that with all those factors involved, people would think more highly of my online alter ego than they do of me. Such is not the case most of the time. I’m a friendly guy. People in person tend to like me (or at least do an awfully good job of pretending they do). Online, though, I’ve had people accuse me of being sexist, racist, homophobic, too politically correct, pedantic, lacking in a sense of humor, and enforcing draconian policies (I’m a moderator of an online forum). Oddly enough, I’ve had people accuse me of opposite things. Some people have said I’m anti-Linux. Others have said I’m a Linux fanboy. Some have said I’m too pro-Gnome. Others have said I’m biased in favor of KDE. Some have lorded over my newbieness with their “leetness” (re: elitism), and others have considered me to be very knowledgeable in the geek realm.
All of this makes me wonder if some of the people online whom I’ve grown to like and respect would actually get along with me in person. I suspect probably not. Many of the people I connect with in the Ubuntu world or even through this blog are anti-gay gun-toting right-wingers, or at least present themselves that way. Some of them drink too much beer.
Well, such is life… and online life. I’ll close with a message from my online alter ego: If you don’t read me laughing, it’s not because I lack a sense of humor; it’s because your joke wasn’t funny.