Life On The Internet

Digital Life for ENGL108D

In retrospect, I would say that I became a citizen of the World Wide Web a long, long time ago, in a land far, far away by foot. At first, my use of the internet was mostly for research, which was looking up information for elementary school assignments. Casually finding information on simple things, and at a time when I could only have called myself a visitor to the web.

I would say that my citizenship started when I joined Neopets, and stopped containing my entire existence offline.

A Journey: From Off to On

In the many years since part of my life was contained online, my online presence has grown considerably. At first slowly, gaining only an email account (hotmail), and an instant messenger account with it (specifically MSN). After the email account, my online presence grew in leaps and bounds. I dabble a little with IRC (internet relay chat), and forums where I knew many of the people afk (away from keyboard, or colloquially: in real life).

Eventually I graduated to services where I’d know maybe a handful of other users, and intentionally talking to people that I have never met afk. A lot of these services were dedicated to specific topics, and my use of the site was limited to that particular area of interest. As the years have gone by, I’ve pulled in a multitude of accounts on different services, slowly putting more and more of my life online.

Internet ~= Public: Balancing Privacy and Utility

As many people have discovered the internet is a big place, but not a private one. If you can see something, chances are many other people can see it too. My parents had always cautioned my and my siblings that the internet was a place where data went, and could not generally be removed from. I would later learn of the infamous Streisand Effect, and marvel at my parents wisdom.

Being reminded from time to time that others could see what I had written made me tread with caution, ensuring that I only presented behaviour that I could justify as boring and unlikely to haunt me in the future. Now, with social media I’ve been building a more complete picture of who I am online. This includes a very complete picture of my professional life (on LinkedIn), and various windows into a slightly more private view of who I am (visible on the contact page).

I have almost always erred on the side of ensuring that very little data about what I do in my private life surfaces online.

Life: Fragmented and Fractured

As I’ve participated in more communities online, I find myself building a sort of graph of information flow, where people that meet me in particular social circles or sites get access to a particular set of self that I present. This setup has me linking people to my more public information after we’ve chatted for a bit, and I feel comfortable letting them get in touch with me outside of the service we first met on.

An obvious example would be dating sites or apps: while you might not advertise your dating profile on Facebook, after meeting someone you direct them to that account, and others from there.

I doubt I’m alone in this practice, because I think there’s an inherent intimacy and vulnerability in presenting your entire online self to someone, awkward dating profiles, private Tumblr blog, and all. This site is currently the extent to which I show off the various fragments of my life, starting with a slightly witty About Me page, and ending in more a more factual and technical series of blog posts.

Such is the life of a “digital native”, navigating the choppy flow of bits and bytes as they carry our various life fragments around.

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