In a recent blog interview, someone asked me what I would do differently if I were invisible for a day, and I responded that for all practical purposes I am invisible. “Practical purposes” meaning “offline.” Some people responded that I was very visible, and they are right. I am visible online, but they (and you) don’t know if I’m visible offline, so basically, nothing would change if I were. I’d still be the same person — whoever that is.
I started out online with a certain persona — not fake exactly, but not entirely me. More of a slightly idealized version of me. The odd thing is that over the years, I have grown into that persona, so I don’t know which is the real me any more, but I think the fake one is the real one.
There’s been a lot of talk online lately about the truth of what we hear and see on the Internet, mostly because of Manti Te’o’s story. To be honest, I haven’t a clue he is or what is story is, but it did make me wonder if the people I meet are real.
I tend to take people at face value online, even though I suspect some of them are not who they say they are. For example, there are a few authors portraying themselves as hulking men with biceps and tattoos that I suspect are really women who are using not only pseudonymous names but also pseudonymous personas, but it doesn’t matter as long as they add a bit of color to otherwise staid discussions. And if they really are those men, that doesn’t that matter, either.
If the people who comment frequently on this blog — the ones I have come to think of as online friends — turn out to be not who they say they are, it wouldn’t change anything. Their insights add depth to the conversation and make me think. That is real even if they are not. But I would be willing to bet they are exactly as they seem.
I have met several people offline that I first became friends with online, and they were who and what I expected. In most cases, there wasn’t even a moment of uncomfortableness — we just continued our online relationship offline.
Of course, online we talked about books and writing, ideas and dreams, and that is hard to fake. I mean, if you don’t have ideas it’s hard to pretend that you do, or if you haven’t read books, it’s hard to make an intelligent remark about literary matters.
Maybe the point is that online we are who we say we are. Offline, we get so used to being what we’re not so that we don’t get in fights or so people don’t get angry with us or to get our way or so we can get a promotion or for any number of reasons, but online, what we are really doing is stream-of-consciousness writing, and that taps into the inner us.
If we are creatures made of stardust and electrons, if all our thoughts are particle waves or energy or whatever, maybe it’s easier to plug in to the essential spirit of people online since the Internet is an electronic medium. Online, you get a feel for people, for who they really are, not how they look or what they do for a living. Online, you’re not obese or crippled or ugly. Online, you don’t repel people with your awful smell or your terrible disease. Online, you’re just you.
Sometimes people take the freedom of the internet too far and, hiding behind fake personas, spew invective at the world. But that is true, too. It’s who they are. It’s the real people who are bogus, pretending to be affable when in fact, they are filled with anger and hate.
Are you wondering if I am real? You already know the answer. Whether I’m visible or invisible, fake or real, it’s my words that matter. My words tell you the truth of me.
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” All Bertram’s books are published by Second Wind Publishing. Connect with Pat on Google+