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Without wishing to be too deconstructivist, everyone has lots of different identities, as discussed in WhatIsMultiplicity. So, I behave differently when talking to my newsagent than I do talking to my grandmother.

This can cause problems, if I find myself in a room with a work colleague, my neighbour, my boyfriend, my therapist, and my brother. With each of these people, I habitually act different ways, and they have different expectations of me, and different knowledge about me. Thus, I start to feel "switchy", and get the unpleasant sensation of being five different people in the same skin. Reality forces me to ditch the illusion that I am reliable and honest and self-consistent, and accept that we are hypocritical and many-faced.

Roots of the problem

Friendship is based chiefly in shared experiences, with shared beliefs and values playing a supporting role. It is a fundamental social skill to emphasize only those experiences, beliefs, and values that are shared. People who are part of only a limited number of relatively similar communities do just fine with only minor changes in emphasis, and have no desire for WalledIdentity of any strength.

When participating in disparate communities with unrelated values, this becomes difficult, and a degree of discomfort is sure to surface when the communities overlap. When the communities have orthogonal value systems, it is difficult to participate in both without a degree of hypocrisy.

Therefore, people create WalledIdentitys in order to avoid this unpleasant situation. We use different PenNames with different people, and keep our full RealName secret from most. We guard our privacy vigourously, and try to organise our lives so our different friends and acquantances are kept in their own little boxes. When it all falls apart, we take the RightToVanish as our last line of defense. Unhealthy, difficult, and energy-draining, but seemingly necessary.

Online, we can carry this charade to an extent we could only dream of in the RealWorld. We can construct a separate identity for each little community we join. We can construct a single WalledIdentity for all our purely online activities and keep it forever isolated from our RealWorld friends. We can even do SockPuppets: something previously only available in comic strips with the aid of a false moustache.

But, it is cyptonautic to try to control the world in this kind of paranoid, HardSecurity manner. Perhaps UnlockedDoors are a better way.

The above text is PrimarilyPublicDomain

The opposite phenomenon is CollatedIdentity?. You can discover if you have WalledIdentitys by following the WalledIdentityLitmusTest.


Job Interview

The JobInterview? is a perfect example of a MeatSpace example of WalledIdentity. It is common for candidates to be asked what book they're reading or what the last movie was that they saw. In most cases, candidates will not reveal a fascination with foreign avant-garde cinema nor an obsession with Louis L'Amour's writing. A safe answer will be prepared ahead of time; books on job seeking include suggestions about the best responses to such questions.

What makes this important is that the interviewer expects this sort of playacting. A candidate who reveals too much of hirself in response to such questions won't be given the job, not because of the answers themselves, but because the candidate doesn't set proper boundaries between personal life and business life.

That is weird. Much as I don't use my real name here, I would not feel comfortable doing that. -- tarquin

WalledIdentity is impossible

All my identities are linked, because they all arise from the same body. You are always you, even when you're not.

In practice, it is extremely difficult to completely divorce two identities, even if one desires to do so. Consider the case of Theodore Kaczynsky, the erstwhile Unabomber. His Luddite manifesto posted in the New York Times was recognized by his brother, David Kaczynsky, as being in Ted's inimitable style. The more one makes use of a given identity, the more likely ties are to be made to other identies. Even if one makes a careful effort to behave differently, certain clues can still be drawn from behavior. [Future criminologists and forensic experts visiting this wiki are welcome to regale us with examples]

However, the Unabomber is a special case. For most of us, while a WalledIdentity may not be completely secure, it grants a measure of PracticalObscurity:

If I wish to discuss goings on at my job, I can change names to protect the guilty. "I have this coworker, call him 'Fred'." "I was working at this company, Fubar Inc.". But if I sign with my RealName, then a search for my writings will show it up. Personally, I've only had 2 jobs since graduating from school. They are very different jobs. That makes it trivially easy to go from my name -> fictionalized name -> what job -> which coworker. If a coworker sees me complaining about something "Fred" does, they'll know who "Fred" is.

If I use an OnlineIdentity to post, and never mention my RealName at the same time as my OnlineIdentity it will be harder for people to find me. This WalledIdentity may be SecureEnough in this context. Yes, my writing style may give me away. That in combination with the events described will almost certainly identify me. But I will be shielded from the casual snoop and gain PlausibleDeniability.

When I was in Pittsburg, I witnessed a trial of an adult male computer programmer who had attempted to visit a 12 year old girl he met on the Internet. Despite building many, many digital layers between his personal self and his online identity, the police were able to construct a very detailed picture of his comings and goings on the Internet. What was interesting was that he never showed up in person to the intended sting, but they nabbed him anyway. Anonymity is an illusion. Note that you do not need the resources of the police. Even I have in the past personally pierced some of the most fiercely protected (and obnoxious) PenNames I have encountered. -- SunirShah


One of the best examples is a young man I met who had joined the firm where I worked as a salesman. He had worked at a prestigious consulting firm previously and graduated from a well-known MBA program before that. He was a smooth businessman, always dressed to the nines and with the right thing to say on the tip of his tongue. Once I was out for drinks with him and another colleague after a hard day on-site with a customer. I noticed a telltale scar on his earlobe and asked him how long it had been since he'd worn an earring. He was so flustered he almost turned red--the only time I've seen him at a loss for words. I had broken down his WalledIdentity and taken a glance into a side of his life that I wasn't supposed to see. --anon.

The most important WalledIdentity for Meatball's focus is one's "life as lived" vs one's LifeInText. That is, particularly for senses of someone's identity that are entirely entered by that person through his or her writing, there already is a filter between how that person actually is and what that person presents of themselves. Even if we tried to make this as "true to life" as possible, there are still biases and transformations inherent whenever someone talks about themselves as we are not fully aware of our selves--most things are buried beneath consciousness. Nonentheless, what we choose to say and what we choose not to say about ourselves online is a very powerful filter of our identities since there are often only very small other CommunicationChannels relatively compared to what we write. We lament about the loss of ParaLanguage, particularly BodyLanguage, but also the inability to talk to one's spouse or one's friends or watch how someone lives their daily lives limits our understanding of that person greatly. Even the most prolific writer remains inaccesible through the wall of text, although the more text one writes, the easier it is to read between the lines of; the further one can penetrate beneath the LifeInText and discover the life as lived.

And yet, a skilled writer can construct a whole other identity as believable as any other. Since people are willing to believe beyond often the point of reasonable contradiction, this doesn't have to be overly skillful. Just enough that it isn't worth the risk of a failed confrontation. Some can enjoy PersonaTourism much longer than others. Certainly, at the very least, one can merely fail to include other more private existances.

What's equally as fascinating is the degree that aspects of one's life appear in CyberSpace outside one's control, such as their browsing habits through IP tracking, or more saliently, reflections by another person whom one has met in MeatSpace. And then, of course, the question: how much control do we actually have separating one's "identities"? How difficult is it to maintain a charade or a wall? -- SunirShah

Walled Identity is perhaps too strong a metaphor. We behave differently with different people and different situations, but we're always ourselves. Think of it as different faces of an object, or different flavours of yourself. Think of it as different arrangements of the same piece of music.

WhatIsMultiplicity disagrees - or at least half of it.

I am interested in adding material here from a sexuality perspective but am unsure if this is a LandMine or not. -- AaronPoeze

Ok I gave this some time and no-one has objected so I'm going to forge ahead. First a small point;

Another example apart from the excellent WalledIdentityLitmusTest, can be the feeling one has when sending a sensitive message (a letter, email or instant message) to the wrong person.

So on to sexuality and here we refer to gays and the 'closet' as it is called. So here I will talk about an extreme case of WalledIdentity which might yield some clarity of the general issue. For many gay men society has been a very hostile place to be openly and honestly gay. Instead of placing a WalledIdentity between different people the fear of real and imagined harm and consequences for being gay means the wall is placed around yourself to separate yourself from society. In this case you hold the embarrassing secret within and share it with none of your other walled societal cliques including critically important people like a parent or wife. This brings short term security and comfort and in many cases is necessary for survival (the Middle East is a good example there). This is the most powerful thorough wall I have ever witnessed or experienced. This leads to a powerful state of not being who you are (acting) which leads to mimicking behaviours essentially doing what is expected of you, particularly what is expected of a straight man.

These walls can be maintained with a very high degree of integrity, the illusion essentially being complete if one so desires. The most complete level includes walling it off from your own conscious which, while never quite complete, does at least mean you believe you are straight yourself. This makes maintaining the illusion with others far less burdensome. Breaking down the walls by others needs a starting point where you do not have the wall. Without that your wall will rarely be challenged and never successfully.

However there are long term and expensive costs in maintaining such a wall. It means at a very important level that you are denying yourself what you want and who you are. For gay men this relates to love, relationships and sexual enjoyment. Moreover the maintenance of the illusion is highly distorting to the self because that level of conscious separation means you are believing what is not true and in many cases this leads to a lot of erroneous and inefficient thought. As well as this not being who you are is very stunting because other aspects of who you are become harder to be true with even if they are not as great a societal issue. In the meantime building a life a non-gay man means relationship, friend, financial, career, family and other structures are all supporting this WalledIdentity making it terribly disruptive when the wall is removed.

In practice many gay men open their wall to some degree. Sexual functionality is first crack in the wall and the hardest to prevent which makes the walled sexual relationship (wife, girlfriend, bachelor) the most risky. But this can be explained in other ways and sexual issues are often a very private matter reducing this risk generally. The next most common break is usually the internet. Here due to the very issues above of PlausibleDeniability, PersonaTourism, RightToVanish etc make it the lowest risk proposition to be gay in a very limited scope. It may be the lowest risk of just read only or they may take it to a higher point of interaction, risk and functionality which generally involves no facial pictures, no personal details but often very overt sexuality or in depth questions. Some go for anonymous hookups in MeatSpace (how very literal) which is even higher risk or may tell a very select few more usually a highly trusted friend or a sibling.

Each of these brings new risks for exposure or what is often termed a 'forced outing'. In the case of a self determined 'coming out' (of the closet) process we are talking of earth shifting changes with a great sense of exposure and freedom. It exposes all sorts of truths beyond the gay one you held so long.

Rounding up before this turns into a thesis I want to illustrate you can insert any unpopular status here such as the similar cases of lesbian or transsexual. Criminal behaviour could be included like prostitutes, thieves, murderers, paedophiles. Even common behaviours like being greedy, an atheist, religious conservative, vegan or a nudist. Just insert the words into the above and modify the context and it will be a similar experience.

Points to make of all this



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