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Some thoughts on identity -particularly mine


I have never written posts like this or this. Come to think of it, I wonder what people think of me when they probably have little data about my offline life and self. It sometimes feels unbalanced that I know so much about them.

Who are we when we are online?

Maybe a better question could be,

What is it about you that surfaces in an online environment and would not come up anywhere else?

Things change depending on how you frame the question, don't you think? The first question seems to call for a battle of opposites between virtual and real. The second question could well ignore superficial dualities and deal with more important things, in my opinion.

I think it is not possible to hide who you are after having written for, say, four years online. If you pretend, I think you may fool a beginner, someone who goes for convenient quotables in your posts instead of consistency. Because reading, after all, is a choice between what you would like it to mean and what it actually means, seasoned with lots of tolerance for what you cannot tell clearly yet.

I think I need uncle Whitman to help me express what I mean,

"All truths wait in all things,
They neither hasten their own delivery nor resist it,
They do not need the obstetric forceps of the surgeon,
The insignificant is as big to me as any,
(What is less or more than a touch)..."#1

Things are there, if you want to read them. That simple.

Those who have been reading my tweets or listened to my mini-podcasts know that I love poetry and poetic prose fragments. You may find the most varied kind of poems there in English and in Spanish, but I know that there is an underlying theme in my choices. My search, my drive in finding them is an exploration of how different voices have managed the struggle of making sense of the world, while living in touch with the mysterious interstices between fantasy and reality.

So, for instance, for Borges, reality and dreams are really hard to tell from each other. His point of view is that of Leo Di Caprio's in Inception. (By the way, I learnt that the film director read a lot from Borges before writing the script).

Cortázar, far from the academic and classical allusions so typical in Borges, made his point speaking of objects that surround us everyday. Listen to him,

"Now I write birds.
I do not see them come, I do not choose them.
They are suddenly there, they are this.
A swarm of words
perching
one
by
one
in the barbed wire of the page,
screeching, pecking, rain of wings
and me, without any bread left to give them, just
letting them come. Maybe
that's a tree
or perhaps
love." #2

Cortázar is an ordinary man with an extraordinary predisposition to weave poetry with whatever signals he comes across. He is a feeler, a noticer, a dailyshooter.

When asked about where he drew the line between reality and 'the fantastic', as the genre he wrote in is called, he said:
"I don't. The fantastic is my reality."#3

Try it.

Juan José Saer, who would have probably argued with Borges, solved the reality versus fictional aspect of literature quite simply:
"By its mere existence, every story is real". #4

On a TV interview #5, Saer was asked to talk about the power of books, their relationship to life; he interrupted the interviewer and said:
"Books ARE life."

Those words go deep in the vinyl of my brain.

We are, we live, we can understand based on the many stories that were read to us, and the countless stories we have told ourselves of who we are.

Think of this.

When you write, and you try to be transparent about how each fledgeling thought of yours is tied to the words that another blogger has said, and you become aware of the hyperlinks between their experiences and your own life story, isn't that as real as it gets?

Right. No. How about close-up enough then?

How can I hide who I am in my choice of subjects for a photo, in my foreign tone of voice when I read a poem, in the rhythm of my sentences or the list of subjects that never ever get an account of in my blog? Something real and undeniable underpins the chaos of it all.

But.

You do not have my portrait. You hardly have a clue of how old I am. You cannot read my very own poems sleeping in a cardboard box on the bottom shelf. Most importantly, you do not know who I'd be ready to kill or die for.

I have long ago decided all that is my privacy.

And yet, I like to think that if you, keen reader of my online footprints, met me face to face, you would confirm you already know me. You would, perhaps, just add more accurate sources to this long quote of myself, which is my blog.

Let me ask you once again:
Who are you when you write online?

Think of it conversely. The offline-only people in your lives who have never ever cared to read what you passionately write about, who do they actually know?

I feel I could carry on writing like this, but this post is long enough and I need some sleep.


Notes:
#1 Whitman in Songs of Myself.

#2 Cortazar's fragment is from the poem "Cinco últimos poemas para Cris". The translation is mine.

I
Ahora escribo pájaros.
No los veo venir, no los elijo,
de golpe están ahí, son esto,
una bandada de palabras
posándose
una
a
una
en los alambres de la página,
chirriando, picoteando, lluvia de alas
y yo sin pan que darles, solamente
dejándolos venir. Tal vez
sea eso un árbol
o tal vez
el amor.

#3 My best recall of what Cortázar says in this long interview.
#4 Juan José Saer in his novel, La pesquisa (The Inquiry). I read a taste of it here.
#5 How I wish that existed somewhere online! It was in Channel 7 in early 2001.




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Fascinating read. Walt Whitman and I spend many an hour conversing over leaves of grass in my early 20s. What a soul he was, especially for his time period.


"Who are you when you write online?"

I really enjoyed the reflective and poetic approach you took to the subject, and loved the twist at the end:

"Think of it conversely. The offline-only people in your lives who have never ever cared to read what you passionately write about, who do they actually know?"

Heading off on another angle here to come back to the issue at hand---- I've floated through a number of cultures in the past 15 years, living in Latin America, Europe and Asia. I've always enjoyed seeing how one's private life is shared differently among the different cultures I've known... really what I enjoy is playing with that fine line/the border of comfort--- seeing to what extent one can or cannot discuss what is "private".

I had a hunch that the 2 blog/articles listed in the top of your post were from Americans, and went and checked... sure enough, they are my compatriots, a people that shares fairly readily what others would find too personal. I now live in France and I'd have a hard time finding a french person "spilling" these kinds of details into the public spectrum. Different.

Well, thanks for the thoughts, and look forward to the next post. Cheers, Brad

I wonder if one can get to know someone online without necessarily knowing specific details about their life - age, family, hobbies, history - because I feel that if I read someone over a long enough period of time (as I have with your blog) I make a connection on an intellectual level and a sense that I have found common ground in sharing or trading in observations and perspectives. And if this comment makes sense to you, then you probably know what I'm talking about.
Why do I read your blog despite the fact that the personal details are sparse? Because I find your thought processes to be insightful, reshaping my own preconceptions and adding clarity to ideas that I've considered more in passing than in depth. Maybe in the online connected environment, we can bypass what is considered essential personal detail trading in the face-to-face world, and get down to the emptying of one's still embryonic concepts out to an unknown but open minded audience.
There is the fascination with those personal details that is part of natural human curiosity - for example, I thought that Stephen Downes had published a photo that included you but a search couldn't confirm that. And as Brad said in his comment, different cultures have different ideas around sharing of private lives - maybe Australians sit somewhere between your reserved position and the completely open American blogging stereotype. In my (limited) experience, meeting people who I've only known through their blogs and other online presences has been different to meeting a stranger. For one, the caution and exchange of pleasantries haven't been needed and I've been able to converse at a deep level on our common points of interest (usually networked learning or a related aspect of using the internet to connect) straight up. And the personality that I've felt through their writing - whimsical, poetic, passionate, informed, philosophical - that has rang true every single time. Generally people who I read over time tend to show themselves as themselves without being able to hide behind an online persona.

Very beautiful post and it poses a question I often ask myself too! And a blog I want to read from beginning to end. Thanks Brad for sharing in twitter.

This is most interesting on many fronts, Claudia, given the link to my blog and hopefully a contact this week via Skype (oops maybe I should not mention).

I would never begrudge anyone their choice to blog circumspect of their personal life- it is a positive of this net that we make such choices, not the system.

I for one struggle any more to draw this distinction between online friends and whatever the other is-- especially as on this journey I have been on for 10 weeks where I have visited at least 30 of my network friends.

We talk about "going" online like it is a place, we never talk about other media like that. And given the way mobile connectivity enabled the communication, I hardly see my online and not online modes as being so cleanly split.

I exist as one Alan: there are things I dont put online but I do not see a neat division. And the outpouring of true actions via the #cookielove generated by my mom's passing says to me these worlds are more overlapped then ever.

@Anna @Brad
So glad you enjoyed it. You know, those posts I link to have touched me deeply. They make me feel how strangely lucky I am to have my parents around. After Graham's post I thought I could write that about my Dad's stories, but soon felt that would be an email, not a post here.

Speaking of cultures, those posts have ended a preconception that feelings are shared like that in my latin blooded corner of the world only. The next time my students insist that it is not possible to express the same feelings in another language, I should point them to those posts.

I can share like that f2f, particularly in one to one talk or small meetings. I just don't see it here in my blog. The web is such a big party. Maybe one day. Who knows.


@Graham
You are one of those people who can understand my most misunderstood posts. That means freedom to me. It's frustrating not to be able to have these conversations in a stuffroom. It's heartening to know it's possible with my network. It's enough for me. I will keep on writing.

Stephen Downes shared a picture of our meeting in Argentina. I am the second one counting from the left:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/stephen_downes/4590329941/
In my FB profile you can even see me in cooking uniform!

The small details count. I couldn't agree more. Funny thing that I am sharing many more of those in my Flickr account. Seems more natural to do so there. Maybe I should collect those details in a set for anyone curious behind these Elt Notes.

@Alan
Agreed. You summarize the whole point: we exist as one. Here online, the office or anywhere for that matter. We probably cannot share everything in all contexts.

This post includes some half truths. For instance, my Mon and Dad do not speak English at all and have never read my blogs. Yet, I wouldn't doubt they sometimes know me better than I do myself.

Looking forward to that Skype call, Alan!

Claudia, I'm never quite that confident that I have understood your intent in your blog posts, but I am confident enough to know that any written content is open to interpretation from the reader's perspective. Even text that is interpreted differently from the author's intent is valuable and pushes the reader to consider things from a new angle. And if they present those conclusions or ideas back to the original writer, it can open up new insight that wasn't originally considered. If all your readers understand perfectly what you are trying to say, then they may have nothing useful to add to the conversation!

I sometimes think that you are able to be more poetic and concise as a writer in English, your non-native language, than many who are raised with English as their first and only language... this post exemplifies that!

How long has it been that we have 'known' each other now? 5 or 6 years? And yet we do not know each other in a world physical and concrete... but we know each other. I remember 'seeing' you in a Facebook photo by Eduardo about a year ago. It was wonderful to see, to add one more detail to the Claudia that I do know, but it was not something necessary. I thought it was nice to be able to add that aspect to the knowledge of a friend, but rather than being some great revelation, it was my surprise that I had not known what you look liked for so long that was facinating, moreso than finally knowing what you look like.

I share more of myself and my family now than I ever have: My daughters' public speeches on Youtube, a photo of us on Twitter, our holidays on Facebook. Yet I still think that what I share of my private life online is still contrived whereas my blog shares my passion for learning openly and fully exposed.

But you probably know all this about me, or at least you are not surprised by my perspective on sharing. For although we have never met (yet?), we are friends and have been for some time... We edit what people know with our f2f friends too, and so digital friends are not getting less of us, just a different canvas to look at.

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