(Re(re(re)))constructing the Self: New Media, Professionalism, and the Online Persona

Edit: wow, that title absolutely reeks of Academia. And after all my attempts to shrug peel scrape it off me, too.

Lately I’m wrestling with a new problem: how to navigate and negotiate a public, professional self. Since deciding to get serious about my career transition, I have taken steps to create an online, published presence, but without being wholly conscious of it, I have been struggling to define and limit who my online self will be. This is being made much, much harder by the ways that new technologies are trying to make it “easier.” Google (fuck you, Google), for example, keeps trying to connect ALL MY THINGS. As if I want my email address and all the associated random accounts I have created over the past 12 years to be part of my present public persona! I mean, seriously, way to put your own homogeneous, advertising-based needs above my personal needs, Google. The headache process of extricating and forwarding and new-account-making and disassociating is ongoing.

While every professional person, to some extent, probably has to go through this at some point, I can’t help but think that it’s worse for someone, like me, who works in communications. Writing, blogging, editing, marketing, public relations, etc. — the career I am looking for involves some degree of most of these things, and so I need online examples, professional examples, of writing and social media commentary. But who is this professionally acceptable person? Where do I draw the line between the personal and the professional? If I go straight “professional,” that doesn’t leave much that’s real. Especially because, if I had my way, my future employer will be an organization with a distinct political, secular, activist angle; I would love to work for The Progressive, or the American Humanist Association, or the Richard Dawkins Foundation, or The Progressive Media Project, or one of so many other progressive organizations (especially ones focused on issues I particularly care about, including education, housing, ecology, feminism, and problems facing females in under-resourced and developing communities). These organizations would want to see writing samples and public commentary with a political, activist perspective. And yet, I want to leave room for more traditional corporate opportunities, obviously, and so I don’t want to put myself so “out there” that I cross the line from the professional to the “unmanageable fanatic rageball.”

As far as blogging and other published articles go, I don’t think this will be too much of a problem; it is easy enough to create a distinct distance between the writer and the topic of the writing. But an important part of media presence, today, is the persona one creates through instances of micro-publishing on the various social media outlets: one must have a twitter, a facebook, a linkedin, a youtube, a GooglePlus (I guess), a blog (or, in my case, several), a (god forbid) Instagram, and a Pinterest (NO. HERE IS WHERE I DRAW THE LINE, DAMMIT), and the list grows as time goes on. But on these sites/ apps, one does not discuss an issue so much as project a personal image. It is not engaging or effective to simply throw out some information; one must proclaim a definite opinion (if only an opinion-of-the-moment).  But in order to be interesting (and, like, real), you can’t just limit yourself to particular issues, or clearly-defined positions. People are complex and often contradictory, and so, therefore, must our online personae be — and therein lies the real difficulty. Because our online publications are there FOREVER, searchable, accessible, and no one is ever going to agree with ALL our opinions. And so everything I ever publish has to go through a conscious filter: is it worth it? How does it contribute/ detract from my online self? Is it professional enough? Is this arbitrary part of me, which I think illustrates who I am and what I value, going to come back to haunt me later? How can I be real but not too vulnerable? Tough and employable and yet still interesting and diverse? It’s an interesting challenge.

Stay tuned, I guess. I originally created this blog to represent a professional self in the blogosphere, but I definitely realize now that that was too simplistic a goal. In an effort to remain somewhat professional, the blog was showing signs of becoming too detached, impersonal, and clinical. In an effort to remedy that, I have made a pretty sharp turn towards the personal. It has now become something different, neither one nor the other, and probably not acceptable “professionally” to be attached to my Real Name, which means that, while I will definitely not abandon this space (I do very much appreciate it for what it is), I will probably now create several other more-specific blogs that are wholly distinct from this one. And also distinct from this blog’s little sister, which is super personal, and pretty mundane. (Joy, another account to make. Another Gravatar. Another creative, annoying attempt to foil the system that would prefer EVERYTHINGTOBECONNECTEDBECAUSECONNECTIONISGOODRIGHT).

Anyone else dealing with this? Have suggestions, advice? How many accounts are you juggling?



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