Identity Versus Voice

I’m reading an ARC from NetGalley about the ways in which technology affect our physiology, both in terms of our health and well-being, and also in the way we think and the physical structures of our brains. I have to admit that so far I’m finding the book to be a little more on the alarmist side, though there have been some thought provoking ideas, one of them being our sense of personal identity.

As the writer puts it, there are two kinds of effects the Internet has had on personal identity. The anonymous web of the 90’s (which still persists in many forms today), allowed for an exploration of the “true” self, meaning that we could say whatever the hell we wanted with minimal consequence (see “Birth of the Trolls”). The more recent explosion of the socialized web allows for a forum that encourages the sharing of more personal details, and one that allows us to construct an external sense of identity, an online persona that depending on our frequency of interaction with the connected world may supersede any internal sense of self-identity.

As I said, it’s a bit of an alarmist book.

Here’s the thing, I get the idea of having an online persona, of curating the thoughts that you share with others. Some people share every thought as they have them (Twitter). Some like to look at interesting articles or get into debates with others of a different opinion (Facebook). And some take a while to think about things, then write their thoughts about it (Blogging).

I have a couple of guidelines when it comes to what I do and do not share online. First of all, almost every word that I write has been sitting in my head for at least a couple of hours. Rarely am I showing the raw stream of consciousness. This isn’t so much about privacy as it is about reflection, of not showing everyone my rough drafts or rough thoughts. In a similar vein, I’m not eager to share most of my political or social opinions, which are frankly more nuanced than anything but a face to face conversation can convey. And truthfully they’re evolving as well, and I don’t like to contribute to the noise of the Internet by throwing my own little feelies into the mix.

I try to create something that people want to read, that’s pretty much it.

Writers have had this concept of identity for a long time, but we call it something else, voice. My writing sounds like no one else’s. Sure there are elements of the things that have influenced me, but the choices of what words to say, and which ones to leave out, and how sentences and thoughts are constructed is  mine alone. This is a form of identity, and one that does bear a significant impact in how I interact with and process the world. And more then ever it’s a voice I’m developing online. I am making writing choices based in part on feedback from the audience I’m trying to build. I pay attention to posts that get more likes and comments and try to figure out what it is that people liked.

That way leads madness much of the time. My general advice is to write whatever you want and people will come along for the ride, but the author has to make some consideration of the people who’ve actually taken the time to read you. I’m not going to feed people the literary equivalent of lima beans, when what they’ve really come for is the chocolate.

Okay, we might be getting a little more into stream of consciousness territory, but this is a voice I speak with too.

I try to be mindful of the ways technology affects the way I think, one of the reasons I’m reading this book in the first place and will take the time to finish it rather than dismiss it. The worst thing we can do in life is to make ourselves slaves to something without even taking into consideration why we’re doing it. I wouldn’t be working in a technological field, or investing in self publishing in electronic form, or even blogging if I thought technology is inherently bad. But I do try to keep part of myself that isn’t for all of you, isn’t for my friends on Facebook, frankly isn’t for anyone else but my God and my wife.

This isn’t to say I don’t love you all. Here’s a personal tidbit. I’m writing this post while sitting in my office in my pajamas which have Snoopy on his Sopwith Camel chasing after the elusive Red Baron. Trust me, this speaks volumes about the kind of person I am.

Now I’m going to turn the web off, and do some revision.

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