Register Tuesday | June 25 | 2019

When Online Life and Real Life Collide

Apologies Ensue

My colleague/husband spent last week doing an impersonation of someone trying to ruin his marriage. A beautiful bomb called Solaris 10 dropped on our world, and as one of Sun's delighted employees, he was up late every night, bleary-eyed and cursing. Additional nerds were called in. Snacks were eaten. Wives went to sleep alone and early, despairing to see nerdy gender lines emerging in their homes. Eventually, Solaris 10 was gentled down to comply with a dual-monitor set-up, and Valentine's Day was only slightly ruined. This turned out to be fine as we're both useless at constructed sentiment, but very good with chocolate-hence "slightly."

Dave can be very open about the company that employs him. On the Net, it commands a certain amount of respect, and it goddamn knows it. His employers are comfortable with their identity and are undickish to employees who like to participate in their brand and then tell the Internet about it. My employers are...not like this. They do not stand for prestige or innovation, and that's as much as you'll ever hear me discuss it on the Web.

You can conduct your business as if there is a difference between real life and online life, but be warned: if you type it, people will find it.

I don't like to discuss the workplace in the blogosphere because I'm afraid of real life and online life colliding in the worst of ways. Certainly, the two have done so before, particularly in my life, and I'm pretty keen to hang on to this square job of mine. It has been my first good opportunity since moving to Canada two years ago, and having the job has helped me come to terms with the fact that, in the US, Dave and I would probably be paid like two kings for what we do, but here we are poorish, and that's how it must be. I'm past the tears now, but what I'm coming to understand is twofold. First, "Canadian experience" or "Ontario experience" on job postings are vague job "qualifications" that keep immigrants driving cabs; many HR departments in the land should be brutally spanked for this. Second, many young people have an incredible ability to passively settle for less pay in the Canadian tech sector. Including me. I can't speak for my peers, but I do it because this kind of work, even underpaid, is the closest thing I've found to a life in which my spheres of performance are intimately related-my life in the cubicle and my life on the electronic plane are both real to me.

In work life as in online life-one and the same for lucky nerds like Dave-technology brings together various groups of people and forces the differences between them to come under close scrutiny. On the Web, assumptions step in to compensate for a lack of physical context-assumptions that are often wrong. Diversity of interpretation is endlessly interesting on an academic level. But an online comment, whether intentionally bitchy or casually open to other meanings, can cause a shitstorm in your life. It's not delightful when you have to sprint around doing damage control among friends, strangers and co-workers who you may have inadvertently insulted by your comment. In my experience, reassuring these people that they've filled in the blanks incorrectly doesn't work retroactively. And this unpleasantness gives rise to another: the adolescent pain of being misunderstood all over again. I was muttering to myself for days after being called, with deadly accuracy, an "apologist" by another DiaryLandster. If I could only explain why I must explain, then you'd understand!

I apologize as much in advance as I can in this medium. This helps narrow the possibility of being misunderstood-and if that fails, then at least I've set precedent for when my narrative pass is fumbled. You can conduct your business as if there is a difference between real life and online life, but be warned: if you type it, people will find it. Even if they don't, they could. In my nine years of using the Internet as a personal crutch, the free and easy ways of my big mouth have gotten me into plenty of trouble. This tends to come about only when I forget its very real possibility. Lately, though, the Web has stopped being the ravine into which I dump my mental garbage. I still keep a private journal online, but I'm mindful of the potential cost of discovery, and more cautious with my words. Like Scarborough, Harlem, East St. Louis or any other neighbourhood that captures the honky imagination, the Internet is not just a place full of trolls, spammers and dirty chat rooms. It is possible to live a stand-up life there. I don't post my criticisms anonymously; I stand by my name and my logged IP. I don't sneak in and sneak out. You'll know where to find me if you need to cuss me.

If I had known all of this nine years ago, I could have detoured around a long, tortured stretch on the information superhighway.

In the last nine years, I've become an adult online. It's bizarre to realize that every statement I've uploaded is documented somewhere, although it would be vain to think that someone might be motivated to seek it all out. Fortunately, I'm not vain-I let my husband post pictures of me in my trackies on his blog. However, as disclosed in previous columns, I am paranoid. The hypothetical Behind the Music episode dedicated to me (when I become famous against my will) is already scripted-with supporting testimony from cruddy, undergraduate short stories, pictures of my family and telltale e-commerce sales records. You can change usernames, delete your profile, move your blog, password-protect it or even go offline, but it's all there for anyone who really wants it. I'm terrified to google myself.

I've learned the most about conducting myself like an adult from blogging personalities, specifically those who write unambiguously and with humour about their lives. It's not that I think it's "brave" or "necessary" to do it, but rather that it's heartening to witness people going about their daily business with integrity-speaking their minds in an honest but emotionally responsible way and cleaning up their messes when they don't. The perspectives and ways of life differ, but the means to live life, express it and share it are the same. My appreciation may seem too cloying, but-haven't you heard?-smiling requires less energy than being ironic, kindness is the new black.

If I had known all of this nine years ago, I could have detoured around a long, tortured stretch on the information superhighway: the AOL weirdo who called me from New Jersey (a younger version of Carl from Aqua Teen Hunger Force); my very laughable, anguished riot grrl site hosted by Angelfire; lots of busted friendships. I sometimes want to find all the people involved in my Internet misunderstandings and spew apologies out to them. But living the apology is better: I've learned HTML, restraint and accountability. Sometimes, I even practise these in real life.

David and Vanessa currently live and toil in Toronto-for, respectively, a large technology corporation and a large eCommerce vendor. They met via their blogs and were married in the winter of 2002. They have a hamster and two dogs, but no yacht.