Today I made the decision to drop my previous internet handle (DarthNerdus) and pick up one based on my actual name (jessereadd). The change is prompted by a recent episode of Dan Benjamin’s The Daily Edition entitled “Avatar”1. To paraphrase the gist of the conversation, Dan and Jen lament the fact that too many people use fake avatars and handles. Dan refers to a blog post he wrote explaining how an avatar is a very key part of a person’s online identity. Our brains are hard-wired to recognize faces, even through age. Jen explains how seeing someone with a fictional picture and name reminds her of a 15 year old, hiding their identity because they’re too young. While they acknowledge the desire for some to remain anonymous, they question the benefit of using a fake avatar for those who publish their real name anyways. That struck a chord a for me.
DarthNerdus is a handle that I started using in high-school. I’ve never really thought about changing it, or the associated Vader-esque avatar I’ve been using. There are times where I honestly feel awkward handing out my email address. Spelling it out for someone (even an Apple Store employee) can result in odd looks or confusion. I normally shrug this off, telling myself their email address is probably firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s not always like that though. Some got the joke, and we can share a genuine laugh over it. Or it sparks a conversation.
It’s worse in a professional setting. Though I haven’t actually started freelancing, I do occasionally work for friends, friends of friends, or other contacts who would like me to do something for them. In those situations, handing them my email address of email@example.com can be touchy. They expect something, well, more professional.
Now, in almost every situation I’ve been hard set in my ways. If anyone wanting me to do casual work for them is going to raise eyebrows just because I use a humorous email address, I probably should just move along. Listening to Dan’s podcast really started to change my opinion though. I’m not here to say that everyone should drop their old handles and avatars and get on the bandwagon of using personal identities on Twitter and the like, but personally I feel I’ve reached the point where I’m better off representing who I actually am rather than some unknown figure on the internet.
I will admit though, I am still on the fence about all of this. I’ve given it a few days of thought, and while I think I’ve made the right decision for me, I’m still very partial to my old pseudonym. I started using it when I was younger and have kept using it for nearly 5 years. It’s a pain (and sometimes impossible without contacting support) to change my username everywhere I use it. In some cases, I won’t be able to. Such is the price of change.
For now, I think I’m going to stick to it and have already changed my Twitter, picked up the Gmail address (though as always, all of my old address will work) and started changing my username on sites I frequent.
Good bye, @DarthNerdus. Hello, @jessereadd.
The relevant conversation starts at the 1:15:30 mark. ↩