Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Redefine Your Bar Identity

Sadly, I will admit up front, I have never been quite "cool enough" to craft myself an alternate identity to share with people I meet while out on the town. It was always entertaining to hear engineering friends in college try and charm ladies at the bars, by pivoting the nerdy-sounding "engineer" into the oh-so-intriguing "Rocket Scientist" or "Code Cryptographer." Not surprisingly, I never thought that claiming myself to be an Exotic Dance major would win me more desirable attention than Electrical and Computer Engineer. I like nerds, what can I say? 

Though now, for the first time since I arrived in San Francisco two months ago, I am seriously contemplating creating a new bar identity. I was out grabbing a late happy hour with friends the other night, when we began to talk with people sitting next to us. After learning that they work in tech recruiting, we happily enjoyed conversing about the latest buzz around town. Everyone eventually left and, like dozens of other simple encounters, I assumed we would never think of each other again. Right? Wrong. Within a couple of days, I was connected with some of them on LinkedIn. And while I think their intentions were purely friendly and social (read: they were not actively recruiting in a bar)...the situation still feels a bit weird. Suppose I had told a white lie, inflating my position or previous work experience, as thousands of people do while having evening drinks? It is as if the web now exists as a fact-checker that people can consult the next day. To be sure, the expression "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" is becoming frighteningly less true all the time; just ask my friends on Facebook who have posted hundreds of pictures detailing every minute of the adventure. 

Note that I am not (yet) picking sides on whether this outcome is "right" or "wrong." But it is definitely worth taking a second look at. It is another weird case to add to the file, which documents how the web is becoming increasingly person-centric. Now, it matters much less if you are Larry Page or Katie Corner: both biographies of information can be searched and found on Google.com in seconds. Thus, I have attempted to turn my indecision into something more productive (in the short term at least): creating a new, fun bar identity to buffer some space between my personal life and my online professional life. The current top contenders are Susie-the-volleyball-manufacturer or Judy-the-Mango-Scientist. 

But jokes aside, think about it. The social web rules are still being written. How far should our society allow the online and offline identities to blur?


  1. Maybe they were supposed to friend you on Facebook (which may or may not have professional details) instead of LinkedIn, which is supposed to be used for professional contacts? (my shaky assumption here is that bar acquaintances are not professional contacts :P )

  2. It's hard to say. This is going to sound a bit bizarre, but I would be less likely to add them on Facebook than as a LinkedIn contact. Facebook is more personal, and includes a lot of details about me I would not typically share with such a loose contact. Whereas my LinkedIn contacts only see a professional distillation.

    Another variable is location: perhaps the rules will be different in Silicon Valley.