Saturday, August 19, 2006

[Roy] When Worlds Collide

Here's an interesting thread that got me thinking along the same lines as that New Yorker cartoon with two dogs and one is saying, "In cyberspace, no one knows your a dog." Over on BigFatBlog I read this discussion about a brouhaha over at KevinMD about some extremely disparaging remarks about obese people which were written in the comments to the post.

These were pretty nasty comments, such as "monstrous layers of blubber", "some lardo whale that makes Jaba the Hut look svelte", and "most of these patients belong in a zoo...they're animals and deserve to be treated as such." Many of these were anonymous posters being a-holes, but apparently one of them was a physician according to the screenname.

Here's where the point of my post picks up. The BFB comments note that someone (jmars) did some googling and discovered that one of the docs who made some of the comments was a respected physician at the University of Kentucky, Dr Coupal.

Here's where it gets interesting for the blogosphere. Someone called his real-world employer and lodged a complaint against him, triggering a disciplinary action.

I'll say this again.

One "anonymous" blogger called another "not-so-anonymous" blogger's employer and complained that he made unprofessional comments on a blog, resulting in an apology and an explanation (that the comments were taken out of context).

Wow! What I find fascinating is that, at least how I see it, bloggers are essentially disembodied eponym's, not necessarily having anything to do with the actual person typing in the text. Some bloggers are even actresses who are paid to blog from a particular perspective (eg, someone who is lonely, sexy, and just loves Smirnoff Ice). So I see bloggers as sort of alters for a kind of wired, multiple-personality, real person which permits one to express different points of view, attributable to different pen names, so to speak.

We've discussed before (I think FatDoc blogged on this recently) about how disorienting it is when the blogosphere unexpectedly intrudes into our real life (RL). Should we assume that what we read in one's blog truly represents the individual writing it? If not, should we hold them accountable for extreme views -- and do we hold the RL person accountable, or just the blogging persona?

It's kind of a dream world, where we expect blogs to maybe reflect RL, but that the blogosphere (BoS) is not really "real". Kind of like the online "game", Second Life, where one can buy a house, purchase clothes, and even have cybersex... even using RL money to buy these things. Most folks don't expect to run into that avatar you met last night at the Starbucks down the (RL) street.

Here's a Clinkshrink example, that illustrates the confusion that results when BoS & RL collide. Clink will occasionally write a post with perhaps some political undertones (::gasp::). These posts (such as Undisclosed Locations and Officer Down) have disclaimers... you know... like "my views do not reflect those of my employer", etc. Why bother with that? Does her employer really know that ClinkShrink is actually Betty Beavis, MD, of 123 Castanoga Street, in Denver, Colorado (oops!)? Do our fair readers know at which Clink she Shrinks?

It's not necessary, but there's that glimmer of "what if someone finds out" in the back of our blogging minds. Perhaps it is that small thrill, that little bit of anticipatory excitement of discovery that partially drives anonymized bloggers. Wonder what happens to their blogging once they are outed. Probably pick up another alias to use.