(But before I begin, you'll all be happy to note that I'm actually feeling quite chipper this morning and not rant-y and complain-y. Only two weeks left of the semester! Hooray! And then finals week! Yippee! This semester will come to an end! This is not to say that I won't whine or complain as these three weeks transpire - I likely will. And I do recognize how lucky I am - blah blah blah - it's just to say that even the lucky ones get into a funk every now and again. This semester, I've been in a bit of a funk. My job's been stressing me out, and I'm cranky. Some of my reasons for that are good, some less so. Whatever. It's my blog and I'll whine if I want to. Suffice it to say that this morning I don't feel like whining.)
So yesterday, riffing on this post by Tenured Radical, Historiann posted about blogging before tenure, and the conversation turned to pseudonyms and the idea that nothing on the internet is private and such in the comments. I thought all day yesterday trying to formulate a response, but everything I started typing seemed like me rehashing crap I'd already written about blogging and pseudonymity in the past. (And I'm too lazy to link to myself, so whatever. I've said a lot of stuff. You can search the blog if you'd like to read all that.)
But this morning, I feel like I've figured out what it is I actually have to write about these issues that isn't just recycled stuff. And it begins with this issue of the pseudonym.
Now, I've overtly outed myself (like accidentally wrote my real name instead of "Dr. Crazy" a couple of times), I've slightly outed myself (made myself easily find-outable), and I've had super-sleuth readers figure out who I am (which isn't all that hard). I've told people who I am. A lot of people. Professional type colleagues from other institutions, blog readers, other bloggers, friends, some former students, some colleagues. No, not everybody I work with knows about the blog. Mainly because it's a hobby. It's not some deep, dark secret, but just as I don't tell acquaintance-type colleagues about the ins and outs of my other hobbies and personal life activities, I don't announce to them that I blog. But so if all these people know the non-super-hero identity of Dr. Crazy, then why bother with the pseudonym at all?
1. When I started blogging, I chose the pseudonym on a whim. Everybody was doing it. I didn't know of anybody who wrote the kind of blog I wanted to write under her professional name. I had no interest in breaking new ground by being the first (esp. as I didn't have tenure). And I had no interest in writing a "professional" academic blog. I figure if I'm going to write stuff that edges toward the scholarly, I'm going to just write conference papers and journal articles and books. I also liked the idea that this was something that would not count toward tenure, promotion, or annual review. That this would not be another line on the cv. I still like that.
2. But I think it's important to note that just because I write under a different name I'm under no illusions that this is not "public" writing or that my real life self isn't accountable for what gets written under the Dr. Crazy moniker. What the pseudonym does, though, is that it creates a definite separation between "professional identity" and "personal identity." Think of it like this. If I go out for drinks with my friends, and I'm in a bar, I'm in "public." I'm accountable for my actions and for what I say. But at the same time, I'm not in a professional context. I'm in a social context. While it's true that something that happened in a social context could have bearing on my professional life, most of the time, that's not going to be the case. The problem with online identity is that there isn't the clear physical distance between professional and personal, if one uses the same name for both. Google doesn't distinguish between "here this person is writing socially" and "here this person is writing professionally." And let's face it: this profession invades lots of parts of our personal lives. In order to write about stuff that isn't necessarily cv-worthy, I need to create some sort of physical distinction between my cv-worthy identity and my social identity, in a medium that has no physical boundaries. The pseudonym is the way that I found to do that. When people talk about the use of pseudonyms in blogging, though, they often talk about those who write under pseudonyms as wanting to be unaccountable or as being stupidly naive about the potential to keep their real life identities "secret." Look, if I wanted to be private, I wouldn't be blogging. Just as I wouldn't go out with friends to get a drink if I didn't want to be out in public. But just because I'm out in public doesn't equal that I want all of my public activities to be part of my annual review.
3. So when it comes to the question of whether blogs should be considered in people's professional evaluation, in my case, the answer is I don't see why anybody would be assisted by evaluating this blog in that way. Sure, people would find out things about how I feel about my job on a given day from it, or they would find out my attitudes about the broader profession. But you know, people find that stuff out from what I communicate directly to them. I've written nothing here - even in my more whiny posts - that I've not said directly to my colleagues (though more often with less cursing). And I don't need the blog to beef up my cv. But do I care if people know about the blog? Eh, not really. It's just not really relevant in most contexts that I write it.
4. But so you may be wondering why I don't link the blog to my professional identity, esp. now that I've achieved tenure, when so many people know the real-life lady behind the pseudonym anyway. If I've got nothing to hide, you might say, I should do that. Well. I've thought long and hard about that. Pre-tenure I had fantasies that I would do so. But I haven't. Why? Well, partly it's because I've grown attached to the identity of Dr. Crazy. (And, as Historiann wrote, that name is a sort of "brand" in the academic blogosphere, and it would be weird if I monkeyed with that.) In this space, I've developed a particular voice, a particular persona, that feels comfortable, and I'm afraid that I'd lose that if I slapped my name all over the thing. Also, I still like the fact that the pseudonym preserves a distinction between work-writing and social-writing, which I think is good for me. But there's another reason, too. It's also that I've found that many readers like to think of Dr. Crazy as Dr. Crazy. Even when they learn my "real name," they often think of me as "Dr. Crazy" or feel uncomfortable addressing me by my actual name. This is true in both directions, meaning that I've revealed the fact that I'm "Dr. Crazy" to some real-life friends who had been reading the blog not knowing it was me, and that I've revealed my real-life name to some readers who didn't know me outside of the blog. I think that people for the most part like to think of Dr. Crazy as Dr. Crazy. And I'm ok with that. Since I don't have any desire to claim the blog professionally, I don't really see the point in sticking my professional name on it.
Here's the thing: blogging before tenure is not really this controversial thing. Lots of people do it. And even blogging with a pseudonym isn't exactly some controversial move, or doesn't have to be. Both are writing choices, like any other writing choices. I think at the end of the day you've just got to be clear that when you make choices in writing that goes out to an audience that you're responsible for them and that you may be expected to account for them in a variety of contexts, and maybe even contexts that you didn't originally anticipate.
1 year ago