Hello all. I’ve been nursing a severe case of crankiness with a side of the blues over the past couple of days which has made me a poor blogger. Hopefully this will soon pass.
There’s been a disturbing exchange going on in sci fi fandom recently, which I won’t get into here because everything useful has already been said (my favorite post is actually by a friend of mine, here, which also links to this astonishingly thorough nutshell), but something that has become a side-issue of sorts is the question of using pseudonyms on the internet, and whether doing so diminishes a person’s credibility or perhaps even negates it entirely. As a person who has interacted online both using a pseudonym and using my real name, I find this attitude perplexing at best. Names, after all, are loaded things, capable of both giving someone power and taking it away. Let me explain what I mean by that.
Most fanfiction writers, for example, use pseudonyms. This can be for a number of reasons, but the most commonly expressed fear among writers of fanfiction is that the publication of their real names could have negative consequences in their offline lives. These fears are not unjustified. Not only does fanfiction fall into a legal gray area (though many, like me, would argue it is fair use), but many people are writing stories of a sexual (sometimes pornographic) nature, and there are plenty of instances when knowledge of a person’s involvement in this could lead to disaster. I personally know someone who lost her job when another spiteful fan (who knew her real name) sent a link to her livejournal to her boss. Though my own stories were pretty tame, and I was pretty open about writing them in my offline life, I also used a pseudonym to interact in that world (for my own reasons), and I don’t consider myself a coward for doing so. Openly giving out your full name in that world is inadvisable, and gives power to those who may not use it kindly.
Sometimes, however, a name can give a person power or influence in an online discussion and that power is not always warranted. The folks crying “coward!” in this case, for instance, are all science fiction authors of note, and as such, it is in their best interest to use their real names. After all, nobody can buy your books if they don’t know your name. Their names also give them influence over fans, who may be more easily swayed by someone whose work they admire than by someone they don’t know. I’m not suggesting that this is anyone’s motive for using a real name in an online discussion, but that this can be the effect if the person is well-known among the discussion’s participants. As a celebrity in any circle, it requires care to use your own name without (intentionally or otherwise) dominating or controlling the discussion, and the decision to do so or not I think warrants the same amount of consideration a fan would give to deciding whether or not to use his/her own name online. Names are powerful things, and should be used wisely all around.
All that said, in the end, it really comes down to identity–what your name means to you and how you feel comfortable using it. When I stopped posting in a fannish journal (under my fannish pseudonym) and started posting here instead, it wasn’t because I had suddenly decided to be honest about my identity so that I could be taken seriously in the world. It was really just about leaving one part of my life behind me and moving on to another. Yes, using my real name has made me more aware of what I say and how I say it, and what the consequences of screwing that up could be, but that doesn’t make anything I say now more credible than anything I said before. When I used my fannish pseudonym, it was me. That identity belonged to me–I owned it and cared for it and wasn’t any less my name than the one my parents gave me. Anyone who has participated in online fandom in any significant way knows exactly what I mean. A pseudonym doesn’t make you anonymous, not in that world. It is just an identifier chosen for yourself instead of by somebody else.
I’ve really enjoyed posting here under my real name–bringing my online and offline lives together in a way I hadn’t before. It has been liberating for me in a lot of ways, and has also made me a better writer and a more effective communicator, I think, because I’m so much more conscious of the purpose of my writing. Many of the people I interact with here are using their real names as well, and it definitely removes an element of mystery, which is something I’m enjoying right now, and perhaps something I actually need at this point in my life. Still, while this identity and the world that goes with it feels more tangible to me, it certainly does not seem more credible or real than the online life I led before.
As this blog’s readership is made up pretty evenly of manga bloggers using their real names and LJ-ers using pseudonyms, I’d love to know how other people feel about this. Anyone?