The Different People I’ve Been

Mar 6, 2011
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When I was 14 my parents bought me an account on the Prodigy network. This was back in 1989, before I had a clue the Internet existed, and four years before the first graphical Web browser would be introduced. I did all the things on Prodigy that you did when you first discovered the Internet. I had email conversations and grew addicted to the chiming sound when I fired up the 2400 baud modem and discovered I had new mail. I posted messages on bulletin boards and got into long-winded arguments with people for no good reason. I did research for school projects, played games and read news, and generally poked around the seemingly limitless world the growing network offered. I also pretended to be someone else.

On Prodigy, and then on the Internet for a few confusing years, user accounts were not assigned normal names. I was not philipberne@prodigy.com. There was no @ yet, nor did Prodigy use domains like .com. Instead, I had a number. MVTK33A. That was my address. Actually, the last letter could be anything from A-F. I had six separate accounts to play with, just as AOL would later offer a family of accounts for each subscriber. If you wanted to write to me, you had to remember MVTK33A. A few years later, I would be assigned my first real email address by my university. My first email address was ST931341. That's what happens when you leave network engineers in charge of social negotiations.

On Prodigy, I started posting poetry on a teen literature bulletin board. I had never written poetry before, and to be honest, at 15 I thought it was a bit effeminate. I was worried about being teased for being a sensitive male writer. I had a few real-life friends on Prodigy, and I didn't want them to find out. So, I started using a different name. While MVTK33A-E were assigned to me and my parents and family, MVTK33F was my pseudonym. MVTK33F was Damion Frost.

Tell me that name isn't awesome. It's so badass. Part spawn of Satan, part literary. Even then, it struck me as so completely ridiculous that I was sure I would be called on it, but I never was. People simply accepted that Damion Frost was my real name. There are some people with whom I was friends on Prodigy who never found out that was a pseudonym. Others, like the girl I met and took to my High School Junior Prom, I was honest with, eventually.

Recently, through clues left in a leaked manuscript, it was discovered that Sarah Palin had a fake Facebook. I can totally relate. Sure, liberal bloggers could pick through and criticize the Likes and comments left by "Lou Sarah" on the pages of Sarah Palin's kids, or glean a secret political stance from her alleged online actions, but personally I have no problem with Sarah Palin, or anyone, really, maintaining a separate, secretive identity online.

If I did have a problem, I'd be a huge hypocrite. Because I've had a fake Facebook profile for years.

(For the record, I certainly did not use the name Damion Frost to create my fake profile. A quick search reveals there is a guy named Damion Frost on Facebook and Twitter. It's just a coincidence, that's not me.)

At first, I tried to add only friends to my Facebook profile. I've always been conscientious about my privacy settings, so I was able to block posts and messages that might be inappropriate for co-workers, or former students, or my father's first cousins. Eventually, though, I had to relent. My desire to keep in touch with family and friends overcame my desire to post far-left leaning political ramblings and off-color jokes. Not racist or bigoted jokes, mind you, but perhaps comments of a scatological nature.

So, I created a new profile just for people who would get the joke. My humor can be quite extreme. My jokes tend to rest on the basic assumption that you know me, and you know I'm not a horrible person, so if I say something that sounds truly awful, it's funny because I'm making light of the extremes. It's funny because I'm portraying someone so far out of character from myself. To that end, nothing is off limits. But you really have to know me to get the joke. If you don't, I can't imagine the assumptions you might make.

Yes, I get yelled at a lot for making inappropriate jokes around my wife's friends. When they don't laugh, she feels the need to explain I'm only kidding. They get the joke, of course, they just don't think I'm very funny. Oh, well…

So I created a new identity and invited friends with a similar sense of humor. Most of them are friends with both of us, me and my alter ego. Some of them don't care about pictures of my toddler or missives from my business trips, so they are only friends with the Bad Boy.

Now I can cut loose, to an extent. When I'm at a trade show and I see a fun slide at the Android booth, or a beautiful cathedral off in the distance, those pictures get posted to my real Facebook page. When I'm at a promotional party and they have models getting their bodies painted, or when I see a booth worker with his hind cleavage sticking out from his too-tight jeans, those pictures go on the secret identity page.

Apparently, this violates Facebook's terms of service. I've gone to some lengths to cover my tracks, including setting up a fake email account to link to this account, changing names and photos, etc. Personally, I'm not worried about making Facebook angry. After all, they have violated my privacy numerous times, by accident or as part of their worldview. The only way I can comfortably exist on Facebook and truly express myself is to divide my personality in two, and give each half its own Facebook account.

One last caveat, if you're thinking of making your own fake Facebook page. Your friends will mess up. You will mess up. You won't remember which account you're signed onto, and you will post messages on someone's wall under the wrong name. Even worse, your friends might post something to your wall, forgetting which account they should use. An old friend recently posted comments about a party we had attended together, comments that should have remained private. But there they were, posted to the wrong account, for everyone I know to see. I caught them quickly, laid the smack down and my friend deleted his post.

I also cut that friend off. He's no longer friends with Philip Berne. That's probably for the best. Philip is kind of dull, anyway.


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