I just discovered that my husband, under his real name, wrote:
- Working for delta squad.
- Almost done shopping
- Back in the office again.
- Another day, another box of kleenex.
- Good thing about working from home – fridge is 2 metres away. Bad thing about working from home – fridge is 2 metres away.
- Yay, another cold.
- Now for the 100 cc series!
He also has a new Messenger picture.
None of these things surprise me. He changes his Messenger tag frequently, and that’s a list of them. His coworkers are all on Messenger, and they use it for work and play. He was surprised to learn his real name was there, and has since removed it.
What if a customer saw these? Most wouldn’t worry — he’s either one of the strange programmers down in the basement they never contact, or the brilliant miracle-worker who saved their data. He never writes anything off-colour, but it’s still not professional.
Or is it?
Back when I went out to work, we tried not to show our personalities to the customers — it wasn’t professional. Now teenagers routinely use juvenile email addresses on resumes, and friends post pictures of you drunk, with your real name, just waiting for prospective employers to find years later.
Employers are getting used to it. Whereas once they wanted to know about your personality before hiring you, but it was unprofessional for you to show it, now they can find it with a few clicks.
I notice it most when I merge an online and real life group. When I meet with the local FlyLady group, first met online, do I use my online or real name? I’m okay with online contacts learning who I really am. Anyone who really wants to can add up the data, so worrying about it is like closing the barn door after the horses have gone. But do I want potential clients to know I’m in a housecleaning support group? Do I want my offline group to see me babble, or my family to see me complain about the idiot?
I wonder, though, if all this concern is really necessary. What’s the worst they know about me? I’m chatty, arrogant, and sometimes I complain, then get down to work. I procrastinate on routine things, but important things get done well ahead of time.
Some people have managed to separate their lives completely. One even has a real-sounding name that she uses in online groups where real names are appropriate. She must do a lot of logging in and out of email programs, because she never, ever, messes up. I’ve also seen several who never, ever, use their real name, and even use a different name for each group, only to have friends in both groups use the wrong name. Some of these super-paranoid tell you their real name within ten minutes of chatting. Add that to the intersection where they were almost hit last week, and their anonymity is gone. I know some who use their real and online names interchangeably. They may have unusual hobbies, but I haven’t seen anything they need worry about the wrong person seeing. Often, such as with authors and other creators, their online presence is part of their advertising.
As for me, it’s too late for me to keep things separated. When we got our own domain name, complete with POP3 email, I used it for all my email addresses. I could check all my email just by logging in to ThunderBird! It didn’t work while travelling, and Mom’s computer froze on onebit.ca’s webmail client, but while at home it worked a treat.
I still try to keep things separate, but admit it’s probably too late. If I switch to GMail, I’d need to check two accounts each day. Some readers would show "From Online Name, on behalf of Real Name". I could probably have Real check Online, then sign in to Online if I need to respond to something, but it’s still a hassle. Now, though, with the laptop, I can continue to use ThunderBird, even when travelling. So all I need to worry about is B, who sends 10MB movies, because everyone but me has a free email account with essentially unlimited space.