What I Call Myself
In 2001, my parents had AOL as their ISP. It came with six or eight E-mail addresses, and they let each of us kids choose an address for ourselves. It's the earliest choice of digital identity I can remember.
I used my initials and the name of my dog, with my dad's input. It was accurate at the time! I loved my dog; she was a close companion to a little boy. And my name was a large part of what I could cling to at such a young age. Young children are sponges, and their own identities are often overrun by their surroundings.
As everything became a social network and required a username, I reused that handle.
I started playing computer games like Zone 66, Jazz Jackrabbit, and Commander Keen when I was young, and kept up the hobby into adulthood. I was unemployed out of college for a full year and a half, and played more than 500 hours of Team Fortress 2 in that time. The large amount of time I put into it set me up to quit gaming altogether, eventually. It would sour my experience.
In games, I used handles like rad, vainglorious, and rashbaghaw. rad was simply my first initial and three letters making a word, which started with coin op and DOS games that only allowed three letters for high scores. My high school persona was self-deprecating, and I relished being dramatically critical. I only used rashbaghaw in military games, as an onomatopoeic self-criticism.
By 2012, I had decided not to use my initials + dog name for an identity. When App.net rolled around, I had already started using the speed of my first computer processor as a name. I would joke about being a bit slow. A slow processor.
I've been involved in computer hardware and trouble-fixing since my teenage years. I used to build websites for neighbors and for record releases. But in 2012 I began taking software development seriously. I sometimes used the term code spelunker to describe myself; someone who dives into code to understand and improve it.
In 2017 and 2018 I started feeling pain in my fingers from repetitive activities. My job was writing software. My hobby was writing software. Playing music and house work also took a toll on my hands. I weaned myself off gaming to have more time and longevity in the other things I do.
In 2018, I stopped reusing usernames and changed many of my existing profiles and Internet bread crumbs. This was a change to my approach because of concerns with privacy and not wanting to be stuck in an identity rut. Jaron Lanier's writing in You Are Not A Gadget was a catalyst for me acting this way:
"If Bob Dylan had a Facebook page when he was Zimmerman in Minnesota, then he wouldn't have been able to show up in Greenwich Village and create this mystique or invent this new persona because this other thing would have been with him all the time."
I like to be known. I want to build relationships. I even want to be generous with strangers. But I don't like being completely open with the Internet.
I also think people can suffer some bad effects psychologically if they build a large reputation online. It can't define me well, and if I think it can, I'm going to have a limited view of myself.
And it opens you up to more potentially damaging attacks, if you put stock in this Internet thing.
Finding Identity in Your Name
I'd rather find a name in my identity.
That is, I find enjoyment in redefining myself digitally, regularly. As I find new facets to my personality and preferences, I am glad to rename the digital me, an extension of myself, to reflect new discoveries and changes.
I like to encourage friends to choose usernames that reflect some of their character, instead of strictly data or pinned to details people would find in their health documents.
Some camps of Internettizens want to maintain their Online identity ad infinitum. The Internet is naturally temporary; any resource has to be maintained to still be accessible. There are advocates for the Way Back Machine (a cache, now archive.org) and keeping personas in ways that someone can control and so keep consistent.
I used to have an identity in my family and pet. I used to have a gamer identity. I used to have a software developer identity. It would be OK if I still were restricted to my old identities (and surely I am tied to them in some ways), but it's great that I've moved on, because I've changed. I could pursue a "pure" identity that will last me for my life or beyond. Maybe I would get tired of changing identities, and try to find a more generic way to represent myself. Like my own name, perhaps.
History is a valuable asset! Knowing your past is a good tool and can ground you in practicality. I want to keep pictures of my family, preserve my children's childhood and the work on my house. Even if I wanted all of it to be public, though, there still must be a balance to strike between preservation and freedom of the self. I strike it by fracturing my identity across the Web.