Who Are We If We Are Not Ourselves?

Okay, I know I’m a geek, but I don’t think this description is too far off most of you.

1 Facebook Account
1 MySpace Account (soon to be unused)
2 LiveJournal Accounts
1 Twitter account
1 LinkedIn account
1 FriendFeed account (unused)
1 Plaxo account (unused)
3 personal Gmail accounts (and two work-related Gmail accounts)
1 Hotmail account (maybe: I haven’t used it in a while and it may be dead by now)
1 Yahoo account
1 Ping.fm account (haven’t gotten into yet)
1 Del.icio.us account
1 Meebo account (unused)

Even stripping out old unused accounts, that a lot of ways to connect to (and be connected by) people. That doesn’t even include my work email.

Does this seem familiar?

If so, are you the same person in Facebook as you are Twitter? Or Gmail? Or work email? Of course not. Some accounts are for certain parts of our lives. Not just including work, I have a subset of friends who only know me through LiveJournal and not by any other means.Â

Here’s a great example. I have a sister-in-law who I used to only see on MySpace, which was fine because I had a handful of friends there who also felt a little too old to use the thing and it was pretty quiet. I could present the “I’m the good guy who is dating your older sister, but you can come talk to me about stuff if you want” face. She doesn’t see the work frustrations (Hi, boss! I noticed that you Twitter-friended me. This will now give me a moment’s pause every time I Tweet.), the stupid “hanging out with friends” stuff or the adult “annoyed by taxes and the complexities of adult relationships” stuff. And she’s about to turn 17, so that’s a good thing.

Except she’s moving from MySpace to Facebook, which is where a lot of my real friends congregate. Now she sees more of that stuff and I’m not 100% sure of how I feel about it. For every person I add to my network, it ads a level of complexity about what I feel comfortable saying. If you walk out of a meeting at work that caused you pain, how you complain about it to your friends, family, co-workers and boss are completely different.

How many articles have you read about people being up for a job up until the HR person reads the applicant’s Facebook page and sees the drunken debauchery? Can we assume everyone we hire is a Quaker and reads Thomas Hardy Novels until sundown before going to bed? Of course not. I know that some of the people I work with have done some pretty stupid things off the clock because I see the pictures in their Facebook (or when I run into them at bars… Hi Rebekah!).

But to some extent, we’re made to feel like we need to leave part of ourselves at the door when we go to work. Or our parents’ house. Or our in-laws’ house. That’s normal, but when we add all these connections (which are generally good), we add layers of complexity to the point where I wonder if anyone is really their whole self someone online (in a place where I can see their name).