Raise your hand if back in the day you used some cool-sounding screen name to identify yourself online a la Hackers. Yeah, I did, too. I’ll bet almost everyone did. I don’t really know why that was standard operating procedure except to say that for myself, I was a teenager and just wanted to sound cool.
These days, with a few exceptions, you’re much better off using your real name. The internet has suctioned itself onto the face of our lives to the point that it’s almost impossible to avoid. It’s the easiest and most efficient communication tool (e.g. Ah, shoot—I don’t have a business card on me. You know what? Just Google my name.) Despite that, a lot of people still use anonymous IDs to interact online. Here are a few reasons they (you?) should knock that off:
Your online ID is your meal ticket
You can be a person who doesn’t use the internet and that’s fine. But if that’s you, you’re not reading this blog post and it’s not meant for you anyway. The rest of you are here either to take or contribute something.
- You don’t want them to find five-year-old photos of you as a college freshman on Edward 40-Hands Night;
- You don’t want them to find someone else’s name and information;
- You don’t want them to find nothing.
I’ll spare you the paranoia about someone else stealing your identity via Facebook and WordPress. Owning your name online (literally [your URL] and figuratively [SEO]) is akin to always having your cover letter and résumé handy.
You’re not an a-hole
If you’re a mature adult, you’re not spamming message boards with drive-by comments or trying to start flame wars. I’m sure there’s some noble-ish argument to be made for 21st Century anarchism and the First Amendment, but even anarchists have day jobs. If you have to, use your real name some of the time and develop an alter-ego for when you need to wreak havoc.
You’re accountable to your real name—not so much with your fake ID
Easiest way to explain this: You’re reading two versions of the same news story. Version 1 uses “anonymous sources” to convey its information. Version 2 names names and lists their credentials. I won’t ask which you believe more—Version 2 has more credibility.
This isn’t to say that anonymous sources don’t have their place in journalism or that anonymous usernames don’t have their place online (more on that in a sec). I’m just saying that in the course of a Twitter conversation, for example, I’m unlikely to even reply to some goofbag whose avatar is Hong Kong Phooey and who doesn’t list any biographical or website information, versus someone who says This is who I am and this is where you can find me.
Like I said, though, there are exceptions.
Exception No. 1: You have an extremely common name
Guess what, John Smith, freshman journalism student at Upper-Central Kentucky State University/Hazzard County Campus? You probably aren’t ever going to rank anywhere near the first page of search results for “John Smith.” So if you come up with a unique name for your blog and use that as a username instead, that’s probably the smarter way to go.
Just be transparent about who you are, like this guy.
Exception No. 2: Your personal safety is at stake
Exception No. 3: You’re not at all trying to do anything with your name
Hey, I get it. It’s not like it’s insanely crucial that you be exactly who you are for your ongoing Star Trek Online quest. Or for your LOST fan-fiction posts. (I swear I have no alternate ID with regard to either of these things, but so wish I did.)
Like I said earlier, having an alter-ego is OK. But once you’re done slaying dragons or whatever-the-hell, it’s time to mouthwash the Cheeto dust away and put on a fresh shirt so you can interact with real people. Hell, half the fun with online role-playing games (some of which spill out of the confines of a single platform or site) is creating something/someone other than yourself and acting out that existence. Have fun with that. Just don’t make it everything you are.
What do you think?
Is being Paul Balcerak (or whomever) that valuable, or is whatever I say just as valuable and reliable if I say it as CWU_grad21567? Leave a comment.