Sunday, June 04, 2006

Venetian Masquerade

There is one aspect of blogging that I have found interesting and fun. With many bloggers there seems to be a cloaked identity that seems to add some mystery about the person behind the words. More often than not, bloggers do not post their image with their blog especially at the beginning. If an image is included on a blog, many times it is a feature that alone would not let you recognize the person in public. What is also interesting is how over time the person's real life image comes out and sometimes even their real names.

This topic has come up again in my mind because of Flickr. Flickr tends to be the opposite of the blog world with the vast majority of people including pictures of themselves. I have even seen some that seem to take only pictures of themselves and many baring it all. Even though Flickr has a policy about it, there are images from many 'adult' aspects of society, but luckily I have not yet seen anyone slapping the butt of their pet primate.

So why the disparity and what could be each's reasons for showing or not showing one's image.

As for not showing one's image, I can think of two reasons. Credibility and Security. For the writer more than the photographer, it is more about the words. Though sometimes for photographers it's about the images they take instead of images of them. In either case, we are swayed by someone's image since our mind may cross reference it with characteristics of others we have seen with the similar features. Some people are greatly influenced by the appearance of others while many can see past it. But when you are writing, you would prefer the other person to concentrate on the words and ideas conveyed, not whether they look like Uncle Fred or Aunt Doris.

I also think many people refrain from showing themselves out of security. There is no shortage of stories about nutjobs lurking on the internet. By writing under a pseudonym without an image or address, you are free to write what you want without real life reproach be it from work, family, or society. That is great if the liberation allows for free speaking or cathartic venting. It is unfortunate to see the times when it is used for slander.

As for showing one's image, there are a few reasons. Exhibitionism, Pride, General sharing, and Connection. Exhibitionism is the obvious one for many Flickr accounts. These tend to be the category of bare all without necessarily having artistic content. Pride is somewhere between general sharing and exhibitionism, though I don't know where the line is. Maybe this category is for anyone that creates a set of pictures of just themselves. General sharing means that you don't exclude yourself from your photos and it's not all about you. Lastly connection is offering your image to the reader/viewer so they know who you are. Throwing a little honesty in the mix. I find that many experienced bloggers take this route. They have been public for a long time, nothing bad has happened because of it, they are well-documented, they have a loyal readership, and they feel free to connect on another level.

What do I do when I come across another blog or photostream? I have to admit that I look for that visual connection. For blogs I may look for a Flickr account to see what they look like. For photostreams I may look for an "images of me" set, but I also look for their "best of" sets for a connection there. Be it taste in photos or common locales visited. I'd love to say that I'm above that desire to see their faces for a connection, but I'm a very visual person. I love looking at things and maybe thats why I like Flickr so much. I'd also love to say I'm above making snap correlations when seeing another person, but I'm not. I have come across blogs and photostreams where the image suggested I may not see eye to eye with that person. Characteristics matched other people I had encountered in the past. I think and hope this is due to human nature. When faced with a new group of people we can gravitate toward those whose characteristics we feel we have a connection with.

So where have I fallen in all of this on the display side. I started out like everyone else playing the game of hiding behind partial images or bizarre images from my past. And I had fun playing that game. I had a desire to post my image, but part of me was still concerned about security. But now with Flickr, I'm really interested in 'coming out'. Maybe it's the comfort of seeing so many others out there. Just as I have shared what I'm thinking through blogging, I'm interested in sharing what I "really" look like. Granted there have been images of me out there on the internet and in Flickr. There was one of me giving a lecture to grade school kids at an engineering open house that was taken down not too long ago. Plus having taken part in some Montreal blogger activities, my image has been taken. Though nothing full frontal. So when will I come out from behind the mask? Well, we have some ideas of how to do it with some pizazz and have fun with it, but we need some free time to do a 'shoot'. So it will happen one way or another though it's still quite possible I will be 'outed' by another blogger with a camera at some event beforehand.

So most of you reading this have a blog and possibly a Flickr account. What is your experience? Are you in hiding? Have you come out? Did it take a while? And why did you come out? Some keep images of themselves off the blog, but it's on Flickr or other webpages. I don't know why but I find it all so intriguing. Maybe it's just the mysterious masquerade of it all.


Martine said...

Interesting questions, Frank. I had been "hanging out" on the Web for so long already when I started blogging that I didn't think about it much and spontaneously added photos. I figure there are SO many photos out there... I guess there's safety in numbers. And like you, I like to put a face on a blog I read so I thought I'd return the favor. ;-)

I tend to be more careful about identifying my house though and wouldn't publish my home address, for example, though a determined person could always find it if they really wanted. Hopefully, they'll never have a reason to do so.

mhg said...

Interesting question. My view is that there's no such thing as on-line anonymity, so I try to be modest and polite whenever I post something. Even then, I figure that unless a fellow's just cat-blogging or writing about something that's entirely uncontroversial, then posting a photo is like painting a target on his own back. That's not being paranoid; it just reflects the fact that a person's writing will increasingly be read by work colleagues, the parents of his childrens' friends, and anyone else with a computer and on-line access. So, I guess it comes down to whether you want to make it as simple as possible for folks to link your name, face and writing. For business ambitions, sure, why not? Talking religion and politics? A judgement call.

Of course, there's also the question of whether a fellow can find a picture of himself that isn't completely mortifying. . . .

Unknown said...

Thanks everyone for your comments.

Nick, glad to see you hear. I really enjoy reading what you write. It would be kinda cool to be recognized on the street, but I could get paranoid not knowing who recognizes me or not.

Martine, Yes, it's that extra layer of connection that I like to see in other blogs. So I feel I should do the same. You're from a bit different background since you have been in the public eye for quite a while. That said, your viewpoints or your personal life may not have been very public before the blog.

I try to be careful on giving any clues on locating myself. Partly because on other blogs or Flickr pages, I find it to be like a riddle to solve if any clues are given. I have seen how two small clues can give it away. Like playing those Flickr Guess games. I use Google Maps all the time to either search out locations or pinpoint them if I know a general area. Hopefully I didn't just freak anyone out.

mhg, It's an interesting dilemma. You always hope the people you surround yourself with are understanding if viewpoints don't match, but you can't choose everyone. By adding a photo you greatly increase the chances of those around you finding out if they don't know already.

As for the picture, it's one of those things where I've bulked up a bit over the years and haven't been able to shed it off. So part of me still whats to put up another shot from years ago.

Lastly, some of the negative banter that took place in the comment strings of Metroblogging Montreal has me a bit spooked though. I don't think it was serious, but I can see how it's possible that another topic might get a bit too heated.