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Back in April, Stefania Sigurdson Forbes was kind enough to profile my social media presence on her website, Reputation Evolution. To create the profile, she sent me a short questionnaire. Ever the archivist, I thought I’d make public the complete answers to her questions here in this blog post:
What opportunities have happened based on your blog and other activities?
My main blog gets a lot of attention. Lately, my twitter feed and ancillary websites have started to get some notice, as well. From the blog, I’ve received lecture opportunities, wider publication opportunities, and even one or two consulting invitations.
The blog has been in operation since 1993, and has proven to be a quick way to tell people who I am. I just point them to the URL and let them make up their own minds about me.
When one of my fiction books won an international award, more traffic was driven to the blog, where readers saw that I was also interested in political commentary. The combination of building a name in fiction with showing some adeptness in political thought resulted in an invitation to give a live, televised lecture in Trinidad, which remains one of the highlights of my public life.
These days, I publish my ideas in blog form first, then refine it once public, usually ending up with a finished product that I can shop around to paying venues. It’s proven to be an excellent platform for both the wider distribution of my ideas and the refinement of written products that usually results in greater visibility in mainstream publications.
My twitter feed has resulted in some excellent anonymous conversations with people around the world, and has helped drive traffic to my more formal products (books, articles, public events, etc). Most prominently, one of my ongoing Twitter features, my semi-regular haikus, got me an interview on CBC radio.
As well, both Twitter and the blog have… how do I put this… afforded me some attention from the fairer sex. Yes, I’ve got dates based on nothing more than just what I blog and Tweet.
On a darker side, some of my more inciting blog posts have resulted in some negative attention. A handful of individuals have threatened me with physical violence, which was never more than idle macho boastfulness. But it was an interesting look into the underbelly of anonymity afforded by the Internet, that it so often empowers the shallowness of macho impulses oft associated with the loud and insecure. Unsurprisingly, the threats have always been empty ones.
Do you think having a risky profile has limited opportunities for you?
Undoubtedly it has resulted in the withholding of some opportunities. But I am quick to offer that the benefits, both substantive and emotional, far outweigh the costs.
I’ve been casually asked by members of three political parties if I would consider being a candidate for them in an upcoming election. (Some offers were more serious than others… I will let you decide which is which.) When I told them to Google me first, they all balked at repeating their offer. One, though, candidly said that he thought they could probably get me elected, but would never let me into cabinet.
I was once outright offered a position as an advisor to a provincial Minister. But in the end, they could not reconcile my public persona with their own desires to maintain a certain profile. They even wrestled with creative options, such as hiding me from the media and referring to me by a different name. Much of that hesitancy had to do with my history of having been a paying member of a competing party. But some of it was due to my public presence on social media.
A job offer with a very serious American consulting firm was contingent upon me desisting from all side publication activities, including blogging. That price was too high for me. At the time, I reproached them for the requirement. But I’ve grown to see their side of things.
The most overt example of my social media activities conflicting with an employer’s belief system was when I had innocently blogged about grammar, about how I disliked the word “deliverable”, as in “I have a deliverable due.” I wrote that I objected to the word because it was an “adjective masquerading as a noun, like calling your spouse a ‘fuckable.'”
My employer took extreme exception to this, even though it was not about him or his organization; nor was he or the organization ever mentioned anywhere on my websites (at the time). The event was the catalyst for my eventual departure from that position. I’m glad it happened, because it opened my eyes to the tension between the old world and the new openness of online interaction, and forced me to figure out what I really valued and was willing to give up.
Your first 5 results are your personal blog, your U of O professor profile, twitter, huffington post, and wiki. Do you think that reflects who you really are as a person?
No, not at all. But it reflects what I want my public persona to be. I get this a lot. People ask me why I want to be so visible. My response is that I am not visible. From my social media presence, you will know nothing of my intimate romantic life, nor of my family, or what makes me scared, sad, or brilliantly joyful. Those things are what is precious in life, and I have protected them from public scrutiny and invasion.
It would take an inordinate effort to pore through my social media offerings to determine whether or not I am in a relationship, or indeed what my sexual orientation might be, and most people would probably still get those things wrong. My public persona is intentionally blurred.
For instance, I used to cultivate the impression that I was broken down and struggling with my weight. In truth, I’ve always been physically fit. I used to compete regularly in both martial arts and squash, and still consider myself to be pretty athletic for a man of my age. But it’s more interesting for me to exaggerate my fitness issues, maybe creating a more relatable character. Nobody likes people who actually *like* to work out.
Instead, the public profile consists of intellectual cogitations and stupid, risque jokes (which I actually think are one and the same). I believe it’s in the public interest for me to reflect back to the world what my expensive education has rendered as something passably considered wisdom; so the world has a right to that stuff. But I have no interest in sharing with strangers those other, more personal things. Nor do I reproach those who make a different decision; to each his own.
At this point, we have to ask ourselves why we engage in social media, especially if we do so to the extent to which I have. For me, it’s been a many layered process. I’m a communicator and need several platforms to daily expound upon my views of a number of things. I do so in long form via blogging, short form via Twitter, orally via podcasting, and formally via my traditional publications. But at a certain point, a social media profile becomes an attempt to express an aspect of oneself… not the entirety, truth, or even the most important part of oneself, but merely an aspect.
Often, that aspect is chosen strategically, as in a marketing campaign to attain personal branding to perhaps sell a product or build a career. But I think most commonly the choice of aspect happens organically, as a person finds within him or herself that slice of personality that perhaps is best capable of surviving and thriving in the wild. Regardless, it’s a fascinating process that can result in tremendous personal growth and self examination.