Thursday, September 20, 2007

Pseudonymous Online Identity and Real Life Social Networking

Facebook has this "contact importer" function to scan your gmail address book. That is how I have found and then "friended" some profs who've contacted me as Belle and then The Real Life Alter Ego.

I'm finding a couple of law profs from my current law school and my last law school. But I am reluctant to add them. It's that unbridgeable gap of "They have taught me. They are not my friends in any sense."

However, I wouldn't say that I'm "friends" with every professor who has contacted me via the blog--I would only say I have a few whom I write consistently enough and talk about personal in addition to professional matters. But for some reason, I'm much more likely to "friend" (v., transitive) a blog reader prof than anyone I've met in a purely professional capacity.

Why is that? It's not like this blog is a cocktail party. Most of the profs who email me tend to do so in a professional capacity, offering advice and support--it's only later, after I've revealed my real identity, that we become a part of each other's social networks. Yet I feel more professional remove from any professor I've met through school or at a conference than one with whom I have an epistolary relationship--even though the former is much more real-life! I was just writing about this to Technology and Marketing Prof, explaining to him how being pseudonymous works for me, and how it helps market my real life self--and so in my many ways, I can build a real-life social network even as I operate a pseudonymous blog with a fictitious online persona.

It's interesting about pseudonymous blogs. In many ways, people email me the way they would never email a non-pseudonymous blogger. I think I establish bona fides in my blog as someone who is serious and motivated about joining the academy. And I'm sufficiently personal and neurotic and open that I bring that out in others. I get emails from professors telling me about their own personal experiences going on the market, their own dynamics at their school. Heck, once I posted on trying to figure out which books to move from my parents' house to Liberal College Law, and I couldn't decide (one emailer said "ship them all, you'll be grateful to have them") and lamented that some books were missing because I had let former boyfriends "borrow" them, only to lose not only love, but some great books. And I got at least 3-4 emails about that, an how one guy keeps rebuying his Zorba The Greek.

I also get a lot of "hey, how are you, and I offer you mentoring or advice if you need it" emails. That's how I became friends with Hipster Law Prof and Dynamic Law Prof, actually. They just emailed me, and we started an epistolary friendship. It initially starts off as prof-to-Belle, but by email 2 or 3 I tell them who I am, and I suppose my pseudonymous bona fides then match up to my real life credentials. In that way, I think that's why I'm able to use this as a quasi networking tool, and even get to goconferences (as my real self) to present my work (at this stage in my career, without the blog, I'd be such an unknown that there is no way I would have the contacts or opportunities I have now without having been able to market myself through the blog. I have the credentials, but some profs also "know me" through my blog, so it's a social network + resume.

But to be honest, I would be really limited if I was only Belle--Belle gets out there more, but the true connections form when I reveal myself as The Real Life Alter Ego. I get lots of cool emails and links as Belle, but all of the actual benefits of social networking: the advice, the friendship, the support, come into play when I actually form off-blog, non-pseudonymous connections and correspondence.