The Dangers and Joys of Living an Open Online Life

There is a certain danger to choosing to live life openly as a blogger and frequent forum user – of which I am both.  One of these dangers recently reared its ugly head and nearly bit my wife and me – fortunately my wife and I communicate very effectively, and it had only a temporary impact in my our life.  However, it brought to mind the various dangers of living and expressing oneself online.  From potential employment issues to family issues – one must keep in mind that you’re are not necessarily anonymous online and if you don’t want the world (include people you know) to know something about you, your first rule should be: don’t post it online.

However, if – like me, an openly recovering alcoholic with bipolar disorder writing about such stuff online – you are willing to take this risk and live freely online openly you must be able to face the nearly certain chance you will face some fallout as a result.   That’s not say there aren’t positives to living openly online, because there are, as we will explore later.

First, let’s explore what it means to live openly online.  It’s helpful to think of the internet as a cyber-punk dream world – a completely different world than the tangible real world (I know, I know, mega-cliche, but for some this idea might help). Today, nearly everyone has a presence in this ‘other world’ or ‘reality”.  This presence may include (among others):

  • email
  • online gaming.
  • social media such as Facebook, Twitter, etc.
  • surfing for research or entertainment.
  • blogging
  • forum users
  • or any combination thereof.

Regardless of what purpose the internet fills in people’s lives, each person that uses the internet in any way has what I (and others, according to Google) call an online life.  For my purposes I define an online life as:

 

 The personae created via lasting interactions with the internet and with the lasting prior interactions of others (or themselves) with the internet which allows for the illusion of an apparently real and complete individual existing apart and separate from the real individual in time and space.

There are a few things to note in my definition of an online life.

First, it assumes that a one can determine the reality or completeness of an individual, either in real life or online.  Granted, mine is a grand assertion, but let’s take it a face value.  If we can agree that when meeting someone in person we assume them to be real and a complete individual (whether true or not, which is a topic for a different type of study), then we can assume the same about the collected information we have from someone online.  Say we get emails, have read blogs by, and participated in online forums with someone using the same alias (knowing it’s the same person in real life behind that alias) then we can mentally frame (based our expectations in real life) an image of a real person existing online.

If we can agree to the first point, then we must also understand the above definition allows that a person may represent themselves (consciously or unconsciously) differently online at different times and in different situations, as people do in real life (at work versus on the ball field).  It also assumes that people may present a wide array of personality traits online based on the type of interaction taking place.  For example, a person might post a caring response to someone’s cry for help on an online forum, but be a vulgar mouthed aggressive (shall I say) jackass on an online game.  This is not counter to the idea of the illusion of a real and complete online life – it merely shows that, just like in real life, people’s personalities vary widely based on situation, even online.

The above definition also assumes that a person may have a number of different lives online – however, this assumes said person is using a different alias (known or unknown by others) for each online life.

Additionally, we must understand that we can only craft this image of a real and complete person by the lasting interactions they have with the internet or with other’s prior interaction with the internet.  That is, we can only frame an image of a ‘person’ with an online life through the lasting data they have left for others to witness online, be that a status update on Facebook, a Tweet, a blog post, email, a questions/response left on forum, a gunshot in a online game, or any other discoverable and decipherable content they have created via interacting with the internet.

Lastly, allowing that this content is in sufficient amounts to allow for the framing of an online persona, the persona exists outside and apart from the actual individual in the real world.  Put another way, the persona a person presents online (consciously or unconsciously) is not the same a persona an individual has in the real world.  There are a number of reasons for this, but simply put the online life does not have a physical form, it is not a life-form as much as it is a life image.  The image of a live being living in a separate reality (the internet) apart from the individual in the real world in time and space, as this persona can still be impacting the others online without the presence of individual – similar to authorship or the impact of an artist’s work (again both known as a type of persona and not a representation of the real person that created the book or work of art).

So, having defined an online life, it’s easy to see that a person can have an obfuscated online life – that is – an online life that is intentionally, and partly or wholly, nothing like their real world life.  Conversely it is possible to live an open online life, where a person is presenting, as best they are able, as close a facsimile of their real world persona as possible, given the limitations of the online world.

We will continue to explore the idea of living an open online life in the next post, starting with an exploration of the general dangers inherent in doing so.

 

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