I’ve always been online as myself. Part of that is not being clever enough to live a well-constructed lie, part of that is having quite a lot of trust in other people being able to tell when I’m blatantly making stuff up. Both of those theses, I’ve come to realise, aren’t necessarily right, but truth has become too much of a part of me that it would be a shame to change that now.
Not messing with the truth when being online has a lot of advantages. For one thing, the relationships you build end up being based on trust.
There are many for whom ‘online’ or ‘cyberspace’ still is a concept far removed from the ‘real world’ – those are in the minority but that minority still runs things. That has consequences for all of us, where ‘having an online identity’ still needs to come with a business case. As a result, every workplace is bombarded with a number of initiatives to make people join this, that and the other scheme and interact. In the same time, other, totally disconnected people run ‘social media engagement.’ But never mind, I wasn’t going to have that particular rant today.
When you’re used to extending your identity online, there is no need for a business case. It’s just you, and it’s the same world as the real world.
In my case, online and offline have always blended. The very first online community I was in was one of people who mostly had met in real life, worked together, and kept in touch after moving around a lot. Since then, meeting up was always part of hanging out.
Meeting ‘IRL’ and then sharing things online, and doing that regularly, adds a huge new dimension to any relationship. You realise that you never find out enough about a person by just seeing them in a social context. In the same time you also don’t find out enough about them ‘just’ online.
Building an online network on this kind of relationships, starting with people you’ve met and where you’ve had the chance to build up basic mutual credibility, makes for a very strong base. You then grow it by adding people the people you trust trust. (That looks weird but I’m sure it is a correct sentence?)
This is really a response to Pauline Roche on Twitter asking if there was an etiquette for meeting someone you’ve talked to online in real life and my incredulous response of ‘why not just be yourself?’ I then realised that I’m possibly a little privileged for always having my worlds blend.
Even when starting out on Twitter, I immediately built an on/offline network by starting to go to Tuttle and taking every opportunity to meet ‘online’ people. So I’m used to being with people who are also used to this. For someone who is carefully constructing an online persona that’s not really aligned with who they are, this might sound scary, but we don’t really feel like that.
As a result, these relationships have been incredibly valuable to me personally as well as professionally. Not in the sense that I got amazing amounts of work from them, because I haven’t – but in the sense of developing myself to being able to talk about my skill and expertise without bullshitting, but with faith in my abilities.
That’s a lot more valuable than anything else.