Staying On Message

Sunday 20 September 2015

Back in the throes of 2007 when I first began blogging, the internet was a different beast. Websites with frames abounded with glittering flashing GIFs. It was, in hindsight, kinda homely. This internet, pre-Snowden revelations, had an innocence about it that makes it seem like it was 100 years ago. At least.

These days, your kids' lemonade stand has a website with proper SEO customisation and a fully-integrated shopping cart. The monetisation of the net ~ massively increased when the money that never did trickle down ran out further in the 3D world with the GFC ~ made all of our website pages slick. Sometimes, when I'm  tired and thinking cold and Boston isn't helping, I look at all of the shiny online personas and so many of them feel marketed, packaged, lopped off.  I feel like people online have lost their levels of complexity, because of fear of whose eyes will be watching and judging.  I may be sentimentalising the past a little strongly here, because really the net never felt completely safe, but these days, with so many more people on it and with what's happened politically and economically in the intervening period, we know it's not safe in a way we didn't then.

Our internet cherries were long ago popped and money is getting tighter.  Those two aspects are reflected, I think, in the way we've all started 'sticking to message' more.  Now we've all Googled ourselves and seen, despite our carefulness, how easily accessed we are, how the web is becoming more and more interlinked, how what we do in one place online can reflect back onto us in another place online, and right down into Monday morning at the water cooler. I don't really have a great deal of professional persona at stake, to be honest, but even I feel the pressure, the self-consciousness, even while it chafes and constrains.  This blog, where I have talked so much about my malfunctions, is linked back to from Weekend Notes, with my full name, as does my Twitter account (and as would my Facebook account if I didn't find it so alternately overwhelming and irritating that I've removed myself now ~ again ~ for over half a year).  How do I know that something here won't bite my bum in the future?

I don't.  But I have consciously decided to refuse to be limited by that fear. The other part of me cringes.

It's understandable and sensible that now we know how far-reaching the internet's tentacles are that we will have cleaned up our online personas to prevent any harm to the selves that walk around in the world and earn our livings. Not so much for us now yearning, open-hearted keening into blog posts about our inner worlds, our struggles, our fears, our complexities, our contradictions.  At least, not in our own names and with our own avatars.  Or not without giving a thought to how it will appear if the boss happens to read it.  Even if we have been greatly careful to ensure that our online confessional presences are shielded from our bosses, present and future, from affecting our careers, our shininess, we cannot be so ... ourselves, unselfconscious, online in the shiny new net.

I was doing some research a few weeks ago for a piece I was writing about professionalism, about how what is constituted as professional changes like our fashions.  At the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, when people came off their farms and from their cottage industries and into the factories, the concept of gearing the beginning of your workday to when the big hand was on the 12 and the little hand on the 6 was anathemic. The newly-powerful mill owners had to start spinning the idea of punctuality as akin to professionalism for the workers to conform.  Now, with the net so new but so much a part of our lives, I can't help wonder if it's not the new way that those with the bucks who pay us keep us held in line. Constraining us with our own selves, rather than with the clock.

These days, slick with marketing, we understand that all of our words are a shingle, that too much openness may affect our clients', our coworkers', our line managers' perceptions of our professionalism.  It is still really not considered professional to be too human, no matter how many programs the HR department implements.

Well, fuck all that shit. The mark of professionalism, in its creepy constraining fashion, is so often the mark of a robot. You can perform your actual work as professionally as you like, but if your humanity happens to seep slightly out the sides of your costume, the perception of you will diminish automatically. These days, in the corporatocracy, you are only as professional as your bland brand. And unless you find yourself in some field where it's acceptable for you to be a Trump brat, or a rock star, or a literary bohemian, if you're not in one of the professions where your personality traits are allowed to be a part of your own personal brand, then you better lock yourself in and stop any of the seepage and get on with being that bland little robot.

Whether you're a marketing consultant or a bohemian rock star, you're still locked into your brand though. And while the latter has a far wider and more colourful turning circle, they would still feel the pressure of conforming to spec, of not causing confusion by going outside of what is expected of them by what has come before. Your brand must be clearly delineated from the other brands. Uncluttered in its message. You gotta stay on message. The worst thing you can do for your brand is to go off message, to contradict yourself, to vacillate, to change your mind, to hold two conflicting opinions at once, to say you don't know. That kind of mess harms your platform. It makes you more mistrusted. Your brand must be something that people can trust or they will switch off.

Despite the over-reach of the professional brand tentacles, you are not that. You are That. Your brand is your shingle and it's also your protection. It hides your soft guts and your fluttering heart from the trolls and the NSA eye. It both promotes you and hides you. It is your vehicle for moving around in the world.

But you are 16,356 times bigger than that vehicle.  You are a person. You are messy. You are contradictory. And that's alright. You never could fit into a brand, even if you try. Even if you have the loveliest and shiniest brand and we all love you (hi Nigella) you still have messy relationships and foibles. You'll likely shit your pants once or twice before you're gone out of this world and you will feel ashamed. You will feel and perceive beautiful things and your heart will skip when you see the unity amongst everything. You will grasp at varying degrees your right to experience your life as you experience it without an expert validating your experience. You will be real, like Pinocchio or the Velveteen Rabbit and at times you will look upon your brand with some disdain or some despair because you will know that you are legion and you are one and there is no brand in the world big enough to be able to contain your crazy, beautiful, messy, sad, special complexities. And you will be right.

Thought by Tostofs (creative commons 3.0 - noncommercial, no derivs)


  1. 1) You have not ceased to exist to me. :)
    2) Some professions require licenses that can be cancelled due to things we say or do online even with no connection to our professional life.
    3) Potential employers use the net to find out who we are.

    All that said, I totally agree with you. We have a lot of fear about our online personas. In fact, I had to close all my blogs because of how they would impact my burgeoning career, which I hate, but I have to pay back my student loans, so I have to be employable.

    It's a horrible place to be locked in to. I just don't know the way around it. Many careers require an online presence, and your identity is no longer your own. Obviously pseudonyms are an option but are also traceable unless one really knows how to game the system.

    The thing is (and maybe one of the reasons you no longer use Facebook) is that, no matter how careful we are with our so-called "privacy" settings, we can't know for sure how much we can trust the people we "trust." I know someone who lost their job because of something they said in their personal Facebook page. A friend saw it and told the person's employer. Yes, it certainly can be a character flaw that someone would even say something that could get them fired, even if they thought it was "private."

    I think we haven't even begun to understand the implications of the internet and how it will change our society in the long range. My sociological mind struggles to comprehend it sometimes.

    1. I wrote a comment the other day and just realised Blogger ate it.

      It's really creepy isn't it how these professions, or their associations, or whatever, get to determine what is professional, what is allowable for us to be before they will publicly shame us. Who needs the stocks?

      And sometimes I wonder why the hell do we so easily put up with it?

      I know it's easy for me to say that because I haven't just put a whole lot of time in like you have to get a new career up and running (did I mention how proud of you I am? :)

      It would be a strange person who wouldn't respond to that pressure by cleaning up their online act (whether it needs cleaning up or not). Because as we all know the money's running out and we're all scrambling for what's left and sheesh, we just want to be able to work in our fields without hindrance.

      It maketh me to be particularly angry.

      As for that friend's friend telling their employer - what? Scary stuff. And kinda lame too. Why are all these businesses so quick to react and fire their employees? Fear. Everywhere it's this kneejerk fear. Won't someone think of the employees? :)

  2. "You are legion". Love love love that.
    The internet is, I think, a very mixed influence on my sense of self-worth. I gain a lot from it, but it's kind of insidious at the same time. I've started trying to be online less, just baby steps, but after 9pm(ish, as it's 9.30pm right now).
    As someone looking for work, I agree with the other commenter that I just do have to be a bit careful about my online persona, but you are also right that my online person is not me, not by a long shot, just as other people's opinions of me are not me.
    Anyway, time to log off and read an actual book...

    1. See and not ten minutes later I read in Brene Brown's book the Walt Whitman quote 'I am large...I contain multitudes'. Hashtag synchronicity.

    2. How awesome are actual books? I appreciate them so much. Especially when I read them away from any devices. It's a bit pathetic that when I climb into bed and crank open that book and blissfully read (by torchlight seeing the booklight died), I know that I can't be bothered getting up to check online even though it occurs to me. It is so insidious. I really don't like the insidious nature of it.

      I think there's room for an accommodation retreat that has an internet connection but it's turned off a lot of the time, and you have to hand in any other devices that you have that could connect at other times.

      Sheesh, I should look into that. I seriously think there would be people who would be totally into that! :)

      And it's weird how both you and Erin have talked about how you need to clean up your online personas, with Erin deleting her blogs, and there is nothing about either of you that would make me think twice about employing you because of anything of yours I've seen online. I mean ... what? It's ... insane! It's really patently insane.

      Luckily pondering insane corporate and business work practices is alleviated by serendipitous moments. Synchronicity. I mean, wow, what universe is this? (A very cool one)


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