Identity is a network

Published on 2024-01-01

I've got a project I keep procrastinating on. At some point this week I've really got to sit down and just do it. Especially since I'm going to be entering another job search soon.

It's like a website.

Imagine if I took my website at njms.ca and printed it as a large sheet of paper. Then, I took an exacto knife and cut out little squares of all the parts that might not look good to an employer (for example, the blog posts where I talk about epistemology and being gay). Finally, I took a projector lamp and shined a light through what remained. What's cast onto the wall is the website I need to make.

I've been running njms.ca for quite a while at this point. The website has struggled with its identity quite a bit. I've struggled with my identity, perhaps. It was first made at a time when I was, I suppose, intrinsically more employable than I am today? Today, I need to do more pretending; "professionalism" isn't really central to my identity.

So, when I first made that website, it was easy for it to both be a professional portfolio and a personal home page. Now, it doesn't really make sense as a professional portfolio. In fact, while there's nothing particularly damning on it, I don't think I'd want most employers to see it. I certainly don't want to feel confined in what I put there by knowing employers might see it.

That's gotten me thinking a lot about how I portray myself on the internet.

Presumably, somewhere, there is a "source" of who I am—a pre-conceptual, ever-changing version of myself. Maybe there's more than one. This, of course, is not the version of me anyone, probably myself included, knows.

Instead, I take aspects of this source, and I "project" them forward into reduced, conceptual images of who I am. One of those images is the person I am when I hang out with my friends. Another is "njms," the person I usually am on the internet.

I'm not sure if it really makes sense to think of these images as successive subsets of some source. They can be interrelated, like a network, where each vertex is a potentially self-contained version of oneself one might present to someone else.

At the very least, I think this model can be very useful for understanding how to properly "ration" yourself while trying to maintain good opsec, which I suppose is kind of what I'm trying to do with building my more employer-friendly website.

It can be a good thing. I remember reading a post on the fediverse a while back that I've since lost, that was discussing how the idea that we all need to maintain a single, uniform identity, coherent between who we are online and who we are in cyberspace, is fundamentally a surveillance capitalism myth, and that resonated with me quite a bit. It can be nice to be true to yourself, but to me, the internet has always felt like a safe space where I can experiment with different visions of who I am.

On the other hand, we don't always get a choice. It can be exhausting, having to spend to much time and effort distilling who you are into a more marketable package.

Though, I think what I call "projecting your identity along a graph towards a more marketable conceptual form," most people would just call "masking."

The original title for this piece was going to be "Identity is a watershed," with a whole bunch of metaphors about streams and flows and shit, but then I remembered that watersheds are like, kind of defined by having only one endpoint where all the water drains out? Yeah my metaphors had to be stretched a little bit for this one lol.

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