Hope Jahren: Real-Life Identity and The Internet

Hope Jahren’s blog is “#hopejahrensurecanwrite“; she can be found on Twitter as @HopeJahren
Hope writes …

People have Good Reasons for wanting to be anonymous on the internet.  People have Good Reasons for wanting to be pseudonymous on the internet.  I have Good Reasons for wanting to be real-life identified, but they are not Noble Reasons.  I am trying to get noticed as a writer.  I’ve stated this before and it’s all you really need to know.  It means that I want people to find me.  Indeed, I want big fancy publishers like Random House (or Scribner or Penguin, I’m flexible) to find my name, which is associated with my social security number, which is associated with my checking account, where they can deposit a huge advance on one of the many amazing book manuscripts that are currently sitting around my house creating a fire hazard.  Oh, by the way those manuscripts are good, too.  Like David-Sedaris good.  And if you don’t like part of it I can rewrite the shit out of it.  Seriously, just email me.

I actually tried to be anonymous for a while.  I really put some effort into it too: I did a couple of thinly-anonymous guest blog posts and I had a cute twitter handle and everything: “@PhytoThug”, but it just didn’t take.  I failed at being under-acknowledged because it’s bloody difficult.  At a certain level, you really have to not care whether people might think you’re witty and smart since nobody will ever hand you a check for it.  Knowing this left me feeling empty inside, especially after my anonymous posts started getting some hits.  If I can be really honest, I started out anonymous because I believed my authentic voice to be vacuous banter with which no one (least of all me) would ever want to be more than dubiously associated.  I expected the comments section to look like this: “FIRST. Oh, and this is crap,” followed by, “Right on dude! It’s crappity crap crap crap!”  When this did not come to pass, I felt basely cheated.  Worse yet, I began to fear that the readers’ benign tolerance — the equivalent of praise to a woman scientist — might erroneously be attributed to some other jackass.  This freaked my shit right out, boy howdy.  I became #hopejahrensurecanwrite right f*cking quick after that.  Now I plaster my name all over everything I’ve worked hard on, which is generally good advice for you career women out there.

It may ruffle some feathers, but I admit that I view pseuds differently than I view real-life users.  This is because I have a puny brain incapable of abstract thought, which I know because a lot of men have alerted me to it.  I’m at least three log-orders smarter than the men who told me that shite, which doesn’t bode at all well for humanity, but when I explained this to them their micro-puny brains couldn’t grasp the abstraction and we stopped Hearing Each Other.  Likewise, my insufficient intellect causes me to envision all pseuds as their avatars.  For example, I have this Twitter friend who is a bunny.  This is fine with me because I’ve met some bunnies in real life, and I know I shouldn’t stereotype but I admire their low-key demeanor.  Our Twitter conversations are far more reciprocal than any I’d previously enjoyed with a bunny, but this just underscores the unique potential of the internet.  Similarly however, if you want to get real super personal and rip me a new one over how I train my post-docs for the job market or spend my grant money, I probably won’t listen real well if it’s not transparent that you’ve ever had a grant, trained a post-doc, or even been a post-doc, for that matter.  You can insinuate all you want that you’re on leave from the National Academy in order to chair a Nobel Committee, but I’m more likely to picture you in your bathrobe sitting in a Peet’s somewhere south of Market Street.  Or a shoe in a bathrobe, as the case may be.  Maybe this is because I just don’t trust people or shoes or whatever, but I haven’t heard many testimonials to the effect of, “My one regret is that that I wish I’d trusted people on the internet more!”  Perhaps I am merely intent on gatekeeping the elite construct that confers my privilege.  Maybe.  But if that were indeed my only motivation, why would I spend so much energy attempting to deconstruct each tweet from the perspective of a rabbit?  I’ll clearly have to think about this some more.

I can’t agree with the advice that implies pseudonymity is the only sane choice of the academic.  I somehow frequently find myself roaming the cyber-landscape in order to generally encourage young people to be their whole, integrated selves in any and every context and to feel good about it, and to expect others to accept and respect them.  It’s an extremely naïve message, but it comes from the heart and at some personal cost.  Listen, it’s a mighty dark day when someone as self-interested as me is left to take up that crusade, but nevertheless I can vouch for openness as a strategy.  I spent a lot of years working excruitiatingly hard as a scientist while maintaining some sort of close-but-no-cigar version of me, and you know what?  It didn’t do me any damn good.  It didn’t spare me from the things I feared: it didn’t keep me from being harassed or treated unfairly, and I don’t think that maintaining that version is what made me successful or got me promoted.  Notwithstanding the above, one could argue pretty convincingly that I don’t have all that much on the line.  I’m not out here writing difficult paragraphs about race and sexual orientation and gender identity and other urgent topics that make the nutjobs get all scary lynchy and shit.  I have gotten hatemail, but nothing worse than stuff said to me in person over the years if I am going to be really honest about it.  I also totally get that I’m tenured — probably because I obnoxiously remind everyone around me of it several times a day, as well as reminding them of the responsibility that tenure entails (which they like even less).  I do understand risk: I’ve seen firsthand and up close how institutions close ranks, shift into high gear and make events and people go away after someone speaks out about sexual harassment.  But none of this can keep me from personally testifying that when you open up and integrate all the different parts of yourself, some people will actually like you better.  I shit ye not — there are people who actually like the ideologically-flawed and inadequate but sincere girl who wrote this.  And by golly if I ain’t starting to like her as well.  And as long as her dial-up keeps working you’ll be able to find her pasty-looking face right here, splashing around within the great and majestic cesspool that we call the interweb.

Read more by Hope Jahren! Her recent posts include “Why I turned down a Q&A in Nature Magazine“, “I love Science because“, “Ten things to do after you get tenure.”

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2 thoughts on “Hope Jahren: Real-Life Identity and The Internet

  1. Pingback: Group Post: Real-Life Identity and The Internet | #HOPEJAHRENSURECANWRITE

  2. Pingback: Pseudonymity, privilege, and me | Karen E. James

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