Second Life’s Strawberry Singh’s Memes seem to be growing ever popular. I caught the latest (Reasons for Your SL Name) while browsing through some other friends’ blogs where the subject has been linked or mirrored. I visited Strawberry’s site to list mine, but the list was already huge so I dropped it on a friend’s site slchatter instead as a starter post there.
I thought though that I would mirror my post here on my own blog because one, I haven’t posted in a long time due to real life, two, my name does have a back story to it and finally three, to wonder how important your name can be and how tied it can be to your online persona.
Sy Beck’s first hour in Second Life
So first off, the reason my name is what is…
In a day long ago when instant opinions and comments were but just a twinkle in the future for internet trolls and bloggers people would express their outrage and admiration through a now near defunct media, made of carbon, called a “newspaper” and more particularly through their “readers’ letters” section.
As a small part of my job for a now previous employer my colleagues and I would regularly write faux letters to either represent our cause or defame another to the letters pages. As an amusing sideline to this dreary weekly task we would also attempt/bet to see what was the most ludicrous name and subject matter we could send in and get published, which would exemplify the readership of whichever newspaper we were writing to.
So for example left leaning papers would receive letters from a Mr Ivor Balfelov complaining that too much money was being spent on nuclear missiles aimed at the Soviet Union and not enough on the “East Hackney – Lesbian Pathways into Art, Organic Farming and Motherhood Project.”
My particular favoured target was the right-wing leaning, if not falling over, The Telegraph. A readership so mad and frothing that any novel idea wrapped up in a Union Flag, declared British and guaranteed to annoy Johnny Foreigner would be acclaimed by its readership and therefore most probably printed by the editorial staff.
I had many noms de plume, among then Rufus Heron, who appeared variously as Rear Admiral Rufus Heron, Brigadier Rufus Heron and Rufus Heron Emeritus Professor of Icelandic Studies at the University of Buenos Aires. My favourite though was the Reverend Simony Beckhander of Littlehope Parish, Adelaide, Australia. Who lamented the story of some talented clergymen who end up in the back-end of nowhere while others less talented, but with better connections end up in the plum jobs. I think there had recently been a dubious appointment to some bishopric within the Church of England. Amazingly they didn’t pick up on the double entendre of his name and location and printed it. The following day they issued an apology to readers who had telephoned in to tell them that it was a shameful hoax and that it had been an unfortunate editorial oversight on their part.
Anyway, cutting to the chase, as I developed an online persona I always liked to choose this name as a lucky talisman and a reminder that all is not always as it seems online. As regards Second Life I wasn’t able to choose Beckford, but Beck was available. Surprisingly, Simony Beck wasn’t available then and I didn’t want to be a Simon so I contracted Simony down to Sy and thus Sy Beck was born.
Sy Beck circa 2013 (Photo by Caitlin Tobias)
So there you have it. While composing the above though and in thought afterwards I was reflecting on the development of my online persona from the early days of internet chat (IRC-yes I’m that old), to forums, to online games and MMOs up to the present with the social media revolution of FB, Twitter et al.
In the early days of IRC I would frequently use my real name and even add my city location on to the end of my name. I remember many times when I freely passed my phone number and/or address to friends I had made online with the offer of look me up when you are in town. Likewise, others too passed their information to me. So my persona online then was as real as my real life persona; I was who I was, end of. Those were the innocent days though and the like of which we will probably never experience again.
Somewhere though in the early to mid 90s it changed, sites you thought you could trust or had everything setup to provide a secure network or database were regularly hacked for lols or darker intent. At that time I, like many others, started to take all reasonable precautions to my protect my identity and other vital information and not leave it in trust to some faceless internet entity. Anytime I logged on somewhere I would be inventing a new id or username, I always faked birth dates and home locations whenever I knew it was unnecessary information that was being requested. In short I was giving away as few clues as possible to any potential exploit. I then found though that it was becoming increasingly hard for my real friends (online or real life) to actually find me on the net or even know that I was sharing the same forum as them.
So around about the time that MMOs and online gaming were taking off I started to coalesce my various online ids/usernames down to just a few until a few months after I joined Second Life when I decided that my online persona would be known across all the internet places I frequented as Sy Beck or some close a variant as a site would allow me. He was also given his own email addresses, blogs, Flickr accounts and a PayPal account linked to a bank account that has no relation at all with my own real life banking accounts, has no overdraft facility and which I only top up with cash deposits. He has become to all intents and purposes a self-standing, self-supporting internet entity.
Is he still me though? There are times when I wonder. I’ve certainly said and done things under the guise of Sy Beck that the real life me has felt shame for doing and other times applauded because I’ve known I wouldn’t have been able to do such a thing with my real life persona. I think in the whole world there are four people who know that Sy Beck is me and would be able to call me up on my phone or come round and knock on my door.
There is though the other real life me on the internet, who has to do his banking and shopping and occasionally chats and broadcasts on FB and Twitter, but he seems to lead a far less exciting and less creative life than Sy Beck. I can’t say for sure now whether Sy Beck is an extension of me or I become Sy Beck when online. They are for the most part identical, but the differences can be acute. It is an astonishing thing though to join a new gaming or online environment and have somebody whisper you to ask if you are the same Sy Beck from either; Second Life, InWorldz, Steam, WoW or some other internet area and then to proudly respond, “yeah, that’s ME.”