I had been writing a political blog for about six months when my wife and best friend sat me down to give me some unsolicited advice:
“Dave,” they explained. “You need to start swearing in your commentaries.”
They both argued that I was more funny, irreverent and interesting in person than I was on my blog. Swearing could help the real me to break through the text. So I took their advice and I included a few choice obscenities in my next post. And it felt good.
Five minutes later I got a call from my mom. She said while she enjoyed my latest article, she really didn’t think the swear words were necessary or appropriate.
I stopped swearing in my posts.
That series of exchanges took place nearly a decade ago. Back then, it didn’t seem that unusual to experience a significant crossover between my two lives — the real one and the one on the Internet.
Today, while a larger share of my life is online, I actually feel that the connection between my online and offline selves is significantly less seamless.
Without any prodding from my friends or relatives, I decided to swear in a recent tweet. Given my past experiences with digital profanity, it wasn’t a decision I took lightly. But after a series of deletes and rewrites, I finally pulled the trigger. And it felt good.
Five minutes later, I walked out into the lobby of my office building and someone I know looked up from her phone and said, “Hey, I see you’ve decided to start including some pretty aggressive language in your tweets.”
This time around, the in-person, real life feedback about something I had shared online was a lot less welcome. My negative reaction to this terrestrial input about the virtual me had nothing to do with the content of the feedback. Unlike my mom a decade earlier, the person in the lobby said she enjoyed the profanity and urged me to keep it coming.
What felt uncomfortable was having a face-to-face conversation about something I posted on Twitter. The only place I want to discuss something I write on Twitter is on Twitter. You can reply to me, you can retweet me, you can even tweet hurtful and hateful responses about me.
But don’t talk to me about my tweets in real life. The first rule of Tweet Club is that you don’t talk about Tweet Club. Whether your reaction is positive, negative or neutral, you can’t possibly expect the real me to answer for the Twitter me.
These days, when I tell someone to have the guts to say it to my face, I mean my avatar’s face.
Part of me even understands Anthony Weiner’s initial reaction to the very public inquiries about the crotch shot heard around the world. He explained that he couldn’t be sure whose crotch it was and that he certainly didn’t send it out via Twitter. To this day, I believe him.
Anthony Weiner didn’t post that photo. @repweiner did.
One of the holy grails of Internet marketing is the merging of our online and offline worlds. Everyone from Groupon to Google wants to own local and better connect our mobile devices to our real life experiences through deals, maps, augmented reality, and location-based check-ins.
And maybe that merging of our offline and online selves is inevitable. But for some reason it just doesn’t feel natural to me.
I was at a party last weekend and over a couple glasses of wine a fellow Internet professional mentioned that he didn’t understand one of my recent tweets.
The issues described above flooded my mind. I took a deep breath, finished off my glass of wine, looked off towards the horizon and gave him the only response that seemed possible at that moment.
“Is this some great fucking weather or what?”