At the conference I was at last week, there were a couple of talks about online privacy. Which led to a few conversations about privacy. One of the comments I made, was that, for me, joining grad school meant giving up some control on who puts information about me online. Like many universities/departments, my department has a searchable list of all grad students, which includes your full name, email address and a photo.
It is also highly recommended/required, that as you try to move forward in academia, that you have some CV-like information about yourself online. For example, you probably want a web page (often university hosted) that displays your name, a way to contact you, current degree program, past schools attended (and degree information), grad courses taken, courses you’ve TA’d and any publications you have. You may or may not want to include a picture, after all, a picture may give away a lot of information that a potential employer technically can’t ask about (like gender, marital status, and kids).
Over the years, I’ve been very careful about who and where I give my personal information out to. After all, it was drilled in as teenagers that the internet is a scary place and you should try to keep your personal information private. But, even more so than that, I find it a bit freeing, to be able to join in on conversations where the other participants don’t have any preconceived ideas about who you are, and can’t (necessarily) easily gather any information. Of course, as I’ve used mostly the same (or variations on the same) username for years now, I’m sure it wouldn’t be quite so hard to link together random pieces of information. But, I’ve also never advertised my username to people I know, so many probably don’t actually know.
As I get farther and farther into my degree, I have started to wonder more and more about how much of myself I should start revealing online. On one hand, I have this blog, which I’ve been using under a username. And I like that, because it allows me some freedom to post ideas and thoughts more freely – although there are a few people who do know who I am. But, it also means, should this blog ever become somewhat “popular” that I won’t actually gain any credit from it – although I don’t actually care. I have a twitter account (used rarely), that I used at last weeks conference, and, should people at the conference have been paying attention, somewhat easily gave away my identity. A thought that makes me a bit nervous (although I did know what I was doing when I tweeted) and a bit excited. I view it as a small step out from behind my username.
It’s kind of interesting, because I would say I’m very comfortable online. I’m not “scared” but I also do like the perceived protection a username provides. Will I someday become “exposed”? Possibly and probably. But I’ll probably continue to use my username even then, because, after 10+ years, it’s just as much part of my identity as my real name.