A big ol’ virtual swear jar and the online identity crisis.

The internet has changed, man.

A big ol’ virtual swear jar and the online identity crisis.

The internet has changed, man.

I have been reflecting quite a bit lately about various things — my online persona, the way I represent myself on social media. How my impassioned and yet foul-mouthed rant about the Internet filter got so much attention. the whole “being in business and trying to get into Medical School” sort of thing… and I have had a bit of a realisation, of sorts.

My online persona is quite at odds with who I am as a person “in real life”. I find it shocking when people are surprised that I am quite refined, and sometimes even a little bit reserved in a real life situation… particularly at things like conferences or meetings… or anything else that basically isn’t me hanging out with my closest friends having a rant.

When I was in my 20’s, I built this persona around being… I dunno… a little bit fierce. Saying all those things that would give me some sort of weird indie street cred for saying the word “cunt”, or using the word “fuck” more than use the words “I” or “and”. I built an online identity for being snarky, and taking the piss out of basically anything, because, well… THAT’S WHAT THE INTERNET DOES AND BOOMERS CAN GET LOST. The whole internet was my closest personal friends and we are all at a party where Téa got sloppy, lost her inhibitions and said funny shit.

The internet has changed, somewhat, since I was a lass. We joined forums, with usernames (even if mine was never all that mysterious – Téa. Louise. tealou. How creative.), that were a pseudonym for various aspects of our personality. Not to say it was necessarily a misrepresentation or falsity; but more… it was understood that your “username” was just one aspect of the person.

I think it’s changing. With Facebook having our real names and our real friends and our families and children and mothers and cats on there, our online identities are very much becoming quite literal public representations of a whole person.

At some point “tealou” the snarky sweary irreverent bloggy person became synonymous with Téa Smith the mother, the business owner, the friend, the person hauled before the Board for the shit she said on the internet when she didn’t know people would see it.

Our online names are now fused with our offline lives in a way that is only just starting to become apparent, and I think that us early-adopters are having the hardest time with it.

I am proud of, and unapologetic about, the content that I have produced over the years. I wear my heart on my sleeve, and reading back on blogs, usenet posts, tweets etc are really all just a moment in time record of my account of history. But, by the same token, at 31 years old, I have started to self reflect and wonder where it is going and what it all means.

I had friends over the other night, and one of my friends was talking to me and made a comment how my language was much less colourful that night. I was a little taken aback, because he’s a fairly recent friend-acquisition and doesn’t have the whole “tealou persona” thing, where I can say things and people generally understand what I mean.

My answer to him made me think for days, because I said to him that the whole swearing thing? I do it a) when I am feeling uncomfortable in social situations and have a slight stutter and the stutter is more embarrassing than swearing and b) that I have built this thing over a number of years that people have almost come to expect it of me.

It was at that moment, when I said it, that I realised that I wasn’t really that tealou person anymore. I mean sure, I am funny. Sure, I swear. Sure, I can also be a bit of a dickhead and overshare. But it is such a small part of who I am that it has occurred to me that people actually HAVE come to expect me to perform a certain role.

It took a couple of very public Re-Tweets & public blog scrutiny to realise that not everyone gets the 3-dimensional me, with that persona history, that early-internet-adopter-safety-of-relative-anonymity thing, that 95% of things I say online are in jest thing…

You know, I am actually a really, really smart person. I am also quite a generous person and will help anyone out who needs it. I am a good and loyal friend and a good mother to my children. I love them dearly and I love my friends and absolutely don’t show them how much I appreciate them enough. I am actually very shy. I have low self-confidence and make jokes when I am hurting. I work really hard and am also not terribly arrogant. I love my husband.

I think that my persona, in some ways, has diminished a lot of my strongest qualities, and it is for that reason I have decided to tone it down a bit language-wise. Not be so… confrontational and actually try to listen more.

Now of course, it doesn’t mean that I am going to change, or be fake-nice, or not swear at all. But I have decided that the “online persona” of my twenties is at a major disconnect with who I am as a person.

For those who have been on the web for a long time, how are you dealing with growing up online? Has there ever been a point where you have questioned your online identity?

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