Internet Identity

I read a blog post the other day by someone I follow on Twitter (@cheeky_geeky) about one's identity via social media and whether it's the new resume. It got me thinking about social media and how the perception of sharing online and one's identity online has drastically changed, and how it will continue to change the way we define ourselves.

I have been using the Internet to communicate with others since I was about 13. My dad was an early adopter of the Internet and we had the standard dial up and Prodigy back in the day. The internet that took up an entire phone line and if anyone picked up the phone or called, you were kicked offline. Throughout high school my friends and I were on AOL, instant messenging (again on dial up) and that was pretty much the extent of what we did online from a communications perspective. I don't remember predators or some of the fears that came along with the Internet existing while I was in High School. We would go in chat rooms and goof off, but we never gave out our real names or phone numbers. There wasn't ever that fear. The Internet was still so new.

I think the fear of sharing online hit while I was just entering college. Everything you heard from parents, to professors, to peers was that you had to be very careful not to give up too much information online. Never, they stressed, put your last name on the Internet. And it's definitely a big no to put your address, phone number, or even your screen name online. I think those types of worries were everywhere, and it was instilled in me too. I had just built out my very first Web site (in all HTML mind you) and I remember I called it 'Venus's Lair' (yeah, I know...but my AOL screenname had Venus in it). I never posted my name anywhere on the site. At that time, I don't even think I had a bio. It was pretty beneign. I actually even blogged during college, before blogging was even a household name. It was a site called Free Diary or something along those lines, and I would journal about my day to day -- but completely anonymously and keeping out any details that would give me away...just in case someone stumbled upon it and knew who I was. Why were we so scared to hide ourselves online?

While in grad school, the online sharing pendulum slowly began to shift. In the early 2000's, social media began to emerge. I remember joining Facebook and MySpace the first year of grad school. And right after graduation I purchased 'christyweb.com' and built out a new site that offered a bio and more facts about who I was. Now it was ok to offer a little more information -- where you went to college, your location -- but you still were wary about what to offer up online. Not only did you protect yourself from strangers, but you also now had to worry about employers. "Google yourself and make sure nothing shows up!" was the lament at the time. We were told we wouldn't be hired if we even HAD a MySpace profile. Just having one spelled trouble for employers and would make you seem too risky. I still kept my last name and my Web site address off of MySpace and Facebook. And even though you knew your profiles were private online, you still audited your information to make sure the word 'shit' or some other potentially offensive information wasn't viewable by anyone. That open communication with people you didn't know was still pretty much off limits. So now you weren't just afraid of strangers online, but of potential employers as well.

Now, four years later, social media has finally become a common household name. Social media has grown to the extent that it's now part of most of our every day lives. Businesses are researching social media strategies and it's increasingly becoming a part (even a must have) of doing business. Businesses have Twitter accounts, MySpace profiles, Facebook fan pages. Instead of rejecting potential employees who use social media, employers are now using it to reach out to potential employees. It's hard to find anyone nowadays who isn't involved in some sort of online sharing of information. People are connecting and communicating with complete strangers. Knowledge sharing among strangers with like interests is rampant. No longer are you holding back your last name. I was a little wary at first about offering so much information about myself, including my Web site, on Twitter. But I think being open about who I am and not hiding behind a vague online identity has only enriched my conversations and helped give me the ability to network with accomplished, intelligent professionals who I never would have (in a million years) crossed paths with. My Web site is now my blog, where I share my opinions and thoughts and offer a connection to all of my 'identities' on the Web (FB, MySpace, LinkedIn).

I believe that nowadays, if you are on the job market looking for a job, you have to have an online identity, a presence. I think the days are over where employers are looking you up online and filtering you out of the candidate selection because you're on social media tools. I honestly feel like within the next five years, potential hires could be filtered out from a job pool because they AREN'T online. I think understanding the Web and how people interact online (C2C, B2C, B2B) will be a prerequisite for most jobs. I think social media fosters open communication and knowledge sharing online, and companies will eventually not only embrace it, but encourage it.

....which leads me to my next train of thought. Despite the growing trends in social media and the increasing amount of knowledge sharing and information on social media tools, why is there still some hesitation and 'scolding' of sorts for having an online identity? There's still a lot of reluctance with businesses to get involved in social media, and even more so to have employees involved in social media. There's still an underlying fear of sharing too much information or making the wrong impression online. There are still people who don't see the value in social media, and don't understand it in general. And recently I've had to be a little more careful of what I put on Facebook and my blog because there are those who watch what you do online, and disapprove. This hasn't happened to me specifically, but I've heard some stories that have made me swing the pendulum back a little and be a little more cautious with what I post or say online.... but this is another blog post all together, which I want to write eventually this week about what it means to be an ambassador for your company and the backlash that comes with it...so stay tuned for that.

But I digress.....

So why the hesitation still with social media? I think it's partly generational (I know older generations use social media, but overall I think it's related to this due to how we grew up with technology). I think the generation after me, coming into the workplace in five or so years, will have no qualms about open communication on the Internet. I don't think they are being told in college today to not offer up any information online, but are most likely being encouraged to use it to compliment their studies, for idea sharing, and for networking. I think as my generation moves into management positions and the next generation comes in expecting social interaction online, the way we do business will completely shift. I understand that face to face is the most important way to communicate, but I don't necessarily think that my generation and the generation after me needs it as much. A conversation online to me is just as good and valuable as a conversation in person or on the phone. I actually feel more comfortable and open with online communicating as opposed to face to face. I can see in ten to twenty years all of us working remotely, having meetings virtually online, and using social media tools to make connections and have conversations. I think transparency will be realized, and open communication will be the norm.

I know this post was a lot of rambling, but it was a thought I had to get out. It's just interesting to look back at the role social media has played for me, and how more and more I'm building out my own identity online, becoming more and more open about who I am, and making it a part of my day to day interactions. You can see tools like Twitter pushing the envelope when it comes to transparency and communications -- and with a growth rate of over 300%, it will only continue to shift things.

This brings up another point... how open is too open? Will we get to a point in communicating with each other and at work, where things we wouldn't dare share with others today will just be part of every day conversation? Maybe the TMI of today will be nothing out of the ordinary in ten years. In ten or twenty years, maybe everything will be transparent...what would that be like? It's interesting to think about... And what do you think? Will we one day be graded by what we contribute from a knowledge perspective? Similar to TwitterGrade, but on a much larger scale? Instead of a GPA, you have an IPA (Intranet Point Average). The more value and knowledge you add to the online community as a whole, the higher your IPA....

I could go on and on...but now I'm rambling again.... I'll stop while I'm somewhat ahead here...


steadyjohn said...

You write:
I actually feel more comfortable and open with online communicating as opposed to face to face. I can see in ten to twenty years all of us working remotely, having meetings virtually online, and using social media tools to make connections and have conversations. I think transparency will be realized, and open communication will be the norm.
Open communication may be the norm if we can fight off the Left's assault on media freedom which is bound to manifest in an Obama administration. A recent book by Brian C.Anderson discussed internet freedom in some detail. Audio of interview with author Andersen here.

Christy said...

I'm going to say that I somewhat agree with you...but only because we all witnessed the reaction by the left to Joe the Plumber (used government computers to investigate him and try to ruin him) and the reporter from Florida (the left investigated her and her husband and tried to dig up dirt). It's scary to think that you'll be attacked for asking questions about someone's policies and beliefs.

Rush mentioned today how much the media is attacking him because he called Obama a Chicago thug. He did a google search for "thug + Bush" and "thug + Cheney" and found TONS of references. So evidently it's ok to hate Bush and say horrible things about him, but don't you dare show dissent against "the one".

And I have a ton of friends who are joining groups on Facebook called "Celebrate Bush's last day in office" with a picture of Bush and a nuke in the background. I think it's disgusting.. I've never seen so much disrespect for a president.. it's horrible. It's so easy to blame everything on Bush.. everyone forgets about the worthless Dem controlled congress that's been in office the past two years.