Identity

22 Jul

Illustration by Robert Calzada / Austin American-Statesman

It might have been right after South by Southwest Interactive, when my brain was a slick, goopy putty, that I told my editor I had an idea for a series of stories about online identity.

There was a fear in me that I didn’t have any decent ideas left (which I now chalk up to being mentally exhausted at the time), and maybe the online identity idea was a way of punting to some indeterminate date in the future as a way of not dealing with a huge project at that moment. But the funny thing about proposing a big project to an editor is that they tend not to forget that sort of thing and next thing you know, you’re actually writing this project, which of course is not at all the way things seemed like they were going to go in your head.

Which is a roundabout way of saying that I have a sizable project I’m working on at my job and the first chunk of it has been published. The series is about online identity — about the ways that our lives are being lived in large part online and what that’s doing to our sense of self — and it kicked off Sunday with a story that focuses on our online reputations and how they’re increasingly tying to our offline activity.

The first story was tough. I ended up with about 70 pages of notes and with a story that was about 30 or 40 percent longer than it needed to be. My editor Sarah got in there and helped tame this big, broad thing into something more tightly focused and when we both saw the story alongside the infographic/illustration and photos in its newsprint form we were a little stunned to see that it all worked somehow. The feedback was good. Got a lot of great comments via email, on Facebook, Twitter and even on Google+, where it attracted a lot of commentary. Even the comment trolls were pretty kind to me on this one. People I run with in online social media circles seemed to really get where the story was coming from and had a lot of useful stuff to add. It turned out to be a great experience.

(Great except for the stressful Friday afternoon when I was writing the piece and thought I was writing way too broad and nebulous for the story to be any good. That part sucked pretty hard.)

Next up on the agenda is a Tech Monday piece using some material that was cut from the reputation piece and then a story in August about how kids’ online identities and interactions are helping shape their offline senses of self.

I’ve been pretty obsessed the last few years at how all this time we’re spending online is shaping us (and will shape our kids). I don’t have a really solid answer, even when it comes to myself. I feel like I have fewer real-life interactions with friends, but that’s also due to having kids and not being able to go out as much.

I feel like I’ve met so many amazing people who would never have otherwise crossed my path had I not met them online, but I also feel like many of those relationships are as thin as stretched cotton candy. When it comes down to it, I’ve also been disappointed by online friends, betrayed even, and of those dozens or hundreds of people who dwell in my virtual neighborhood, only a handful would I ever call in an emergency or rely on for help with anything of importance.

What else is going on… On Monday, the Digital Savant blog is going to partially morph into a weekly print column in the Statesman. The first one runs Monday and I’m trying to mentally psyche myself for having a weekly column deadline. It’ll be a mix of how-to pieces, tech reviews and reported essays about tech, very similar to what’s in the blog but in a little bit more fleshed-out form, I hope.

In a few days we’re turning in our last Trailers Without Pity video for this season. We should be back in October or so, but I’m grateful for the break. The videos are a lot of fun as long as we have a finish line in sight for some rest.

Lilly turns 4 next month, and we’re a little freaked out about it. She starts Kindergarten next year and that’s a whole other kind of angst for us, the parents. Carolina isn’t yet 2, but she’s rapidly growing out of babydom, too, and that’s hitting me harder than it did with Lilly since we don’t plan to have more kids. I love my little pre-verbal, diaper-busting Carolina. That grinning, babbling toddler won’t exist in that form anymore and I’m getting teary just admitting that to myself.