On Letters to an Unknown Audience, Ezra Kilty, whose trouser size is 31 x 33, quotes a passage from Master and Commander, ending with a paragraph on identity:

"The identity I am thinking of is something that hovers between a man and the rest of the world: a mid-point between his view of himself and their of him—for each, of course, affects the other continually. ..."

That seems true and I'm particularly interested in how this plays out online, perhaps because that is my primary mid-point. My brother, whose trouser size I do not know, once wrote something about how people stop blogging when they get jobs. I think he wrote it on a blog he later stopped writing when he got a job. It may be more indirect than that; people stop blogging when they have enough interaction to establish identity. That may be a job, but it could just as easily be a knitting circle.

These things take time from a day, and that's what I've always thought was driving the change. You get a job, and you don't have time to blog. But maybe it's more than that. Maybe you know on some level that when you don't interact with others, you stop existing in their minds. You feel yourself start to lose identity. So you go online and make your self known there. On a blog maybe, or a social networking site, or in videos, or as an avatar in some game. The context doesn't really matter. The point is: you are a person who acts a certain way and now other people know such a person exists. You gain identity.

It's difficult to have a good identity through interaction. Society is rigged against doing. We recognize good deeds, sins of commission, and sins of omission, but almost never good deeds of omission. You noticed when I failed to say "happy birthday" on Facebook but not when I stopped myself from posting that mean-spirited comment on YouTube. No one applauds the politicians who just do their jobs and somehow avoid attacking each other. We even vote such people out of office when someone else with more identity comes along.

It's also difficult to have a consistent identity, but that may be a good thing. Too much consistency makes it difficult to change, and we all need to change. On Ftrain, Paul Ford writes that Google+ lets you divide people into clusters and lie to each group in different ways. As negative as that sounds, it brings online identity closer to physical interaction. It's much easier to establish myself as patient in my knitting circle and efficient in my job when I don't have to mix the two. Surely this can be taken to Jekyll/Hyde extremes, but it seems we need at least some ambiguity to successfully navigate identity.

Ezra closed his post by saying I am sharing this with you. That didn't mean much to me at first, but I now find I'm inclined to say something similar in ending this, to establish my own identity by affecting your view of me. As much as I can influence it, I want my identity to be good, but also somewhat fluid. I am a person who has thought about these things.


If you’re going to adopt a false identity, I think it should have the same first name as your own. First of all, no one would believe that Scott Johnson is really just Scott Reynen's false identity. We expect more of our conspirators. Also, if you should ever happen to get your real and false identities confused, it would be much less noticeable and much easier to explain if your first name was the same. "What’s this letter to … 'Scott'?" Why, it's just a letter to me. Nothing at all suspicious about that!

I realize this flies in the face of conventional wisdom on false identity name choice. I recently heard someone (I can’t remember who) say that the only funny line ever on the Family Guy was Peter Griffin trying to pretend he was someone else and when someone asked him what his name was, he said "Pe...ter.......Grif....fin..." That’s a terrible false identity, of course, but I’m suggesting that it’s only terrible because it isn’t false. After meeting the falsity requirement of false identities, I think the goal should be to keep it simple, and the best way to keep it simple is to keep the same first name.

The exception to this rule is unusual names like "Icarus." If your real first name is Icarus, your false first name should definitely not be Icarus. This is my advice to people adopting false identities. I wish you best of luck in your life of lies.