“Why do you blog under your real name?”
That is the #1 question I get regarding this blog. Actually, it’s #1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.
The first year I blogged anonymously. My concern was that somebody would Google my name and find Expat Chronicles. I used a pseudonym so juvenile I can’t bear to repeat it.
But then one day I read What Would Google Do? by Jeff Jarvis. The “New Publicness” chapter struck a chord:
If you’re not searchable, you won’t be found
Google defines what your web presence should be. Of course, you need a website. Who doesn’t? …
If you’re a manufacturer, customers should be able to find product details and support in an instant. If you’re a politician, voters want to know your stands and record. If you’re a food company, buyers want nutritional information. If you’re a clothing company, shoppers want you to give the information a good sales clerk would – does this run large? Where can I buy your product? How do I contact you? Your users are already telling you what they want to know. Have your web folks show you the searches people made in Google when they clicked on a link to come to you …
When I read WWGD, I had just launched an independent career. I was looking for freelance work and opportunities. I realized: IF YOU’RE NOT SEARCHABLE, YOU WON’T BE FOUND.
By that time I had written some scandalous articles. I’m not recommending everybody write sensational content. But what has it done for me? It has closed some doors, I’ve lost opportunities, no doubt. I even got fired, twice. However, I’ve also gotten offers I wouldn’t have otherwise.
One guy sold cell phones in the US, a sales whiz who ascended to the regional manager level. One of his bosses visited Bogota and was astounded by the development. He sent Sales Whiz down to set up a distributorship. The idea was to clean up on the Colombians by offering superior customer service, which doesn’t exist in Latin America. They had $100,000 behind the effort. So Sales Whiz came down to Bogota and set up near Park 93. He found my blog and immediately reached out. We started hanging out regularly. He once told me in so many words, “I don’t know where you’re going to fit into this business, but you’re going to be a part of it.”
He didn’t care about my scandalous articles. If you think a certain way, chances are somebody else does too.
I’ve received e-marketing offers from others looking to enter the Colombian market. I’ve gotten translation gigs, teaching requests, and more. It’s gotten to the point where I have to pick and choose my opportunities, which I never would’ve dreamed of in my anonymous days. So having a transparent web presence has been a net gain for me.
BLOGGING UNDER MY REAL NAME HAS BEEN A NET GAIN.
Imagine how those people who reached out would’ve felt if I had that ridiculous pen name and no photo. They wouldn’t have taken me seriously. If someone can’t find your name, picture, resume, and your LinkedIn, then you’re not just out of the game. You’re not even in the arena. You’re in the parking lot with the other nobodys.
What about getting a Good Job?
Some of you are thinking, “Colin, you don’t understand. You’re a freelancer and I’m not. I could lose my job.”
If your employer will fire you for what you wrote on your blog, then you probably don’t have a good job. In fact, that should tell you that you’re expendable.
From Seth Godin’s Linchpin:
If you want a job where you are treated as indispensable, given massive amounts of responsibility and freedom, expected to expend emotional labor, and rewarded for being human, not a cog in the machine, then please don’t work hard to fit into the square-peg job you found on Craigslist.
If you need to conceal your true nature to get in the door, understand that you’ll probably have to conceal your true nature to keep that job. This is the one and only decision you get to make. You get to choose. You can work for a company that wants indispensable people, or you can work for a company that works to avoid them.
Are you wearing a mask in public? For that kind of company / job? Why?
If you actually work for an organization that insists you be mediocre, that enforces conformity in all its employees, why stay? What are you building? The work can’t possibly be enjoyable or challenging, your skills aren’t increasing, and your value in the marketplace decreases each day you stay there. And if history is a guide, your job there isn’t as stable as you think, because average companies making average products for average people are under huge strain.
In most non-cog jobs, the boss’s biggest lament is that her people won’t step up and bring their authentic selves to work.
Are you a cog? It’s fine if you are, but don’t ask me why I blog under my real name. Because I am not.
Public is valuable, Privacy is not
Jeff Jarvis’s next book, Public Parts, went further in extolling the virtues of publicness. Jarvis thoroughly researched the history of privacy and publicness. Privacy was never something that needed to be protected. Privacy was for nobodys.
The word privacy … derives from a Latin word meaning deprived; deprived of public office; in other words, cut off from the full and appropriate functioning of a man … A nobody, in short … A man who lived only a private life, who like the slave was not permitted to enter the public realm, or like the barbarian had not chosen to establish such a realm, was not fully human.
If you were a private person, you had no status. In fact, the United States Bill of Rights protects publicness. With the exception of illegal search and seizure, the most important amendments were designed to protect your right to be who you are in public – through speech, assembly, religion, and trial. Historically, public has been more valuable than private.
Privacy was once free. Publicity was once ridiculously expensive … Now the opposite is true: You have to pay for privacy in the effort and hassle it takes to manage privacy settings. You also pay in the opportunity lost if you choose not to be public and social … [Y]ou can be rewarded – with attention, influence, information, deals – if you reveal yourself. This new economy tilts toward publicness.
Jarvis’s example for publicness in personal life is the success of Howard Stern. Stern was the pioneer of putting his personal life on radio for everybody to hear, and he’s enjoyed unprecedented success. The two are friends, and Stern’s movie inspired the title of Jarvis’s book.
Jarvis cites a 1960s book, Alan F. Westin’s Privacy and Freedom, which lists that era’s privacy concerns: the microphone, telephone, recorder, camera. Kodak cameras were scandalous when they came out. That someone could have their image taken at any moment was an invasion of privacy. It was a matter taken to litigation and public debate. How silly does that sound now? What side of history are you on?
While not condemning privacy as much as I would have liked to see, Jarvis did attack anonymity:
[A]nonymity is often the cloak of cowards. Anonymous trolls – of the human race, not the Warcraft breed – attack people online, lobbing snark at Julia Allison, spreading rumors and lies about public figures, sabotaging a politician’s Wikipedia page, or saying stupid stuff in the comments on my blog. I tell commenters there that I will respect what they have to say more if they have the guts to stand behing their words with their names, as I do.
That’s another reason I couldn’t go on being anonymous. It’s weak. It’s fearful. It’s everything I’m not about. I walk tall. I look people in the eyes and tell it how it is. I’m about being b0ld, taking risks, living aggressive. Hiding behind a fake name – it was just too weak.
Jarvis on people trying to manage two online personas:
Those are the two identities we are trying to manage – not our work selves and our home selves, not our party selves and our serious selves, but our inner, real selves and outer, show selves. When our inner and outer selves get into conflict and confusion, we appear inauthentic and hypocritical. In all our spoken fears about privacy and publicness, I think this anxiety is the great unspoken fear: that we’re not who people think we are and we’ll be found out.
Being public really keeps you honest. Being public, I can’t brag about some professional boxing career, or that I’m earning $10,000 / month or that I’m a professional cagefighter, because of the people who know me and read this blog. Being public keeps you honest and consistent.
“Transparency keeps you honest,” [Mark Zuckerberg] says. “In the strictest definition of the word, integrity is basically saying one thing to everyone. That’s true for people, and I think that’s true for companies too.”
All the media crying about privacy and everybody who is against the Schmidts and Zuckerbergs and Hoffmans, everybody trying to preserve privacy, are fossils. They’re on the wrong side of history.
In my review of The Start-Up of You, I echo the importance of establishing an identity:
You don’t have to write about your vices, and you don’t have to write something every week, or even every month. But you have to put something out there. You have to demonstrate that you have a brain. You have to be public in the 21st century.