Managing Digital Identity


Note: I wrote this post before Scoble, Steve Rubel, and others began a discussion on this exact topic. As it turns out, it seems people have been thinking about these ideas too, so I’m publishing these thoughts in advance of my originally planned date.

Do your professional colleagues know your home address? Do they have your home number? Are they part of your inner social circle?

For the most part, probably not.

That’s part of Rob Pegoraro’s point. Like many others, Rob has experienced an attempt by others to blend his professional and personal worlds. Suddenly, professional contacts have requested his “friendship” on his personal Facebook account. What to do? Friend? Not?

twofaces Due to anonymity and other factors, historically, the web has fostered a strange environment. People run wild with fake online identities. People believe the web is a vacuum, one where they can do whatever they want without being caught. But that is not what we are talking about here.

In the world that Rob and many others are beginning to experience, professional is personal and personal is professional. Context no longer exists. You don’t dress, speak, and act one way with your friends and another with your clients and colleagues. Your private life is still part of your “personal brand” and you aren’t allowed to “hide anything anymore.”

The call for “transparency,” for some reason, is being requested beyond business. Proponents of the idea aren’t just asking that large organizations like Microsoft, Ford Motor Company, or even the government embrace notions of transparency. They seek all individuals to live a transparent life, to let their personal lives and personal laundry hang proudly in the public forum.

While this paradigm is being pushed through on the web, the norms being challenged — context in culture and society — have always existed in the real world. Context and contextual relationships have had little to do with secrecy or not being comfortable with oneself. They have existed, for the most part, to promote professionalism, decency, tact, order, and self-control.

The web should not be the harbinger for a new societal order, whereby our personal lives are our professional lives and vice-versa. While many people often idolize pop stars, they would not trade all the money in the world for the one thing these icons no longer posses: privacy.

There’s a difference between secrecy and privacy. Secrecy is concealment. Privacy is seclusion. The former denotes the need to hide something. The latter represents the want to be unobserved.

Context can exist on the web. There’s nothing wrong about wanting privacy. There’s nothing wrong with rejecting professional contacts on a personal social network profile like Facebook.

Managing digital identity is only in its infancy but it is a choice that people will have to make. What to do? Friend? Not? Don’t allow the transparency paradigm to rule your professional and personal life.

Original Concluding Note: For a different take on the issue, read Geoff Livingston’s Friends, Followers, and Openness. One observation: I agree with much of what Geoff writes but not in the sense of a singular (professional and personal) digital identity. For the most part, I have no problem accepting “friends” or “followers” in my professional digital world.