Today on BoingBoing I noticed an article about a guy meeting a troll from his blog in the real world. This got me to thinking about how the net has changed since I started using it around 10 years ago. Many people in the past have lived almost completely separate lives on the internet. There are pseudonyms & handles, invented histories and even completely different personalities lurking on the net. I have a number of friends who are just completely different people online compared to offline. It’s almost as if they have technologically enabled multiple personality disorder. They’ll be quiet, affable people in person and raging trolls on the net. Signs of mental illness? Perhaps, but more signs that the arenas were different and that anonymity was really possible.

More recently, however, we’ve seen the internet growing up … changing and becoming more linked with the real world. As Matt notes, the dating scene online has absolutely blossomed — and although becoming a different person for dating purposes presumably can be very amusing, one would imagine that for many people they have to be moderately honest so that meeting in reality is still a possibility.

Additionally, as more people move online, it involves actual deceit to keep your identity secret. I have a number of friends whom I know have websites or blogs, amongst them Simon, Nat, Andy and Tristan. Since just about everyone I know in the real world (not at work, but in my circle of friends) has a blog or journal online, in order to keep their online identity secret they would have to have a “real me” blog and a “false me” blog. Kind of like Superman has to have Clark Kent as an alias for the daytime. Or is Superman the alias? Either way, quite frankly this might really be in the realms of psychosis.

What this means is that the real world and the online world are becoming closer together. As Elly noted today, computers are becoming integral to every room in the home. With the online paradigm comes much more directed personal communication, as Anil was bemoaning earlier in the week. Since almost all communication is person-centred, rather than general (there are notable exceptions covered in Anil’s post and comments), separating your real and virtual person is surely harder and harder?

Equally, can people live as their real selves online? Some people who have LiveJournals are living their entire lives, complete with minute details, frustrations and niggling doubts in full view of the public. When you might feel that you are anonymous this is much more understandable than when you realise that eventually anyone might be able to work out that insert silly handle here is actually insert actual name here … and that Google will remember.

On the other hand, some people do write online with their own names (two examples), but without too many personal details. Although this might seem a sensible approach, Google can still come back to bite you from the past. My parents found out that I spoke at Bath City Council for the proposal to introduce a civil partnership register (not that I was hiding it from them, it just didn’t come up) by googling my name. A ridiculously old website of mine (my first attempt, done in Frontpage, to my shame) comes up somewhere in Google associated with my name because a friend of mine has linked to it with my real name against the link.

I’m not too bothered, but then my indiscretions have not been extreme. Imagine a current teenager however, putting their first site online (possibly with their real name) at 14. All the growing pains, the trials and tribulations, detailed and shared. Skip forward ten years to a job interview where the interviewer has googled his or her name and found this old site. Will we need legislation to prevent discrimination based on past history on the internet?

Bit of a ramble, but the ideas intrigued me and seemed to keep meandering down different routes. I’d love people’s opinions of this and to understand how they approach their posting online and anything previous that they might be ashamed of now.

UPDATE: Found this blog survey essentially about these issues which I will fill in sometime and possibly the rest of you could help and do so too 🙂