2 Mar 2004 ib   » (Master)

If anyone else comes up from out of the woodworks to give me some unsolicited advice on tattoos, I'll introduce his or her backside to the end of my boot, I swear.

After posting that small piece on tattoo art after 9/11, some (none of which had the chutzpah to actually write a comment) felt compelled to inform me about the dangers and problems associated with tattoo art. Personally, I don't give a flying radish wether you think tattoos depicting the heroes and site of the 9/11 tragedy are appropriate. Heck, I'm not even sure what I think. But body art and tattoos in particular are a part of life ever since the first henna smears adorned the skins of our prehistoric predecessors.

I usually overlook such folly, but there's more. My latest piece of body art is in a more than visible place. And while some may think, that public displays of ink should be a no-no in academia and professional environments, I happen to disagree and have said as much. Which is, by the way, the reason I am wearing short sleeve shirts for interviews. You get the whole bundle, and you might as well inspect it before you buy.

But back to the depravity, evilness, and social stigma that is body art to some.

I'll have you know, that I am not even remotely convinced tattoos or piercings are addictive in any way, shape, or form. Sure, if you're an adrenaline or pain junkie, getting a needle wedged under your skin may have some kind of greatly satisfying effect on you, but there are cheaper and less permanent ways to get that, and there's only so much skin to have fun with. For the rest of us, body art is a part of what we think ourselves to be. Born into this body, I strive to complement it. Just like my puritan (or conservative Jewish) critics, I dress in a way that highlights my strengths and hides my weaknesses. Just like them, I decide on facial hair, haircut, how often to go to the gym, how to brush my teeth, and much more.

I do this to create an outer representation of my inner self. My clothing, my boots (if you know me, you might have noticed that I possess a large number of boots, but no footwear without shafts), my beard, my tattoos - an attempt to project my perceived inner self, in an idealized way, onto my environment.

The latest, and so far most memorable, attack concerning the ink on my body happened today (and is incidentally the reason for this rant, being that I use this site as a means of venting and coping every once in a while :). The lady whose lectures on satanism, the irrelevance of the UN, bad parenting, homelessness, and unemployment seem to have been triggered by the few milliliters of black particles under my skin, just wouldn't stop.

Now, keep in mind, this happened in Los Gatos, the Silicon Valley's third finest (after Los Altos and Woodside) location. Said lady ogled me from behind a set of shaved eyebrows, eyelinered to perfection, smelling worse than a perfume dump, the botox injected and lifted forehead reciding behind a definitely fixed nose and a lifted chin to match.

This is who she is. Like me, she uses artificial means and modifications to enhance and change her physical appearance to match the transrealism of her conscious and sub-sconscious self. She might not realize it, but her body modifications, like mine, serve no other purpose than personal wellbeing, knowing that peers and passersby see her for what she feels she is.

Some go to extraordinary lengths to ensure this. Full-body tattoos, enhanced breasts and augmented chins, designer clothing, a snazzy car, or that "I HEART DICK" T-Shirt. And some, like me, are a little more comfortable with their self, amending and augmenting where they feel it'll help, but generally abstaining from drastic measures.

And yes, despite the diuturnal nature of tattoos, to me their effect is much less drastic than a boob enhancement. Not that I'd get one, anyways. If I ever want a longer penis or bigger breasts, I'll check my inbox - I am sure somewhere there, next to stunning business proposals from my friend the former Nigerian minister of health, I will find an offer that I can not refuse.

Until then, I'll wait for the next rant about my chances as a homeless satanist without a job, just so I can demonstrate why exactly I am wearing boots, and nothing but boots.

The question of presentation and reality transcends more than just the world of body art. Lots has been written about weblogging (and online presences in general) and ones image as reflected by Google, Yahoo, and other search engine / information gathering places.

Between the infrequent but nevertheless dramatic stories of bloggers having been fired from jobs for expressing views or writing pieces on their respective sites we find others failing job interviews or VC negotiations on account of a semblance of reality conveyed to the deciding party by Google.

And then there are those who would not date anyone without at least three pages of Google results to dig in and explore. Or employers whose decision is made in part after an interview and in part after a search for "Candidate Field_of_Work" on one prominent search engine or another.

All those examples show one thing more or less clearly - the circumference of our actions has increased, the distance between actors and observers is drastically reduced. The effect of actions and affiliations has grown to include those not usually in our direct circle of influence. Not unlike the promise of <abbr="Yet Another Social Network Fad">YASNF</abbr> (Yet Another Social Networking Fad), separation has lost in influence, while reliance on a proper self-display has been amplified by technology.

The idea isn't new. During my studies with a Bulgarian Sinti Family, I met a young girl, age 19 or 20. Her skills (a MBA), looks, and heritage would have demanded a high dowry and a groom of equal standing and skills. When I carefully poked into the mystery of her relatively disgraceful marriage, the patriarch told me how she'd been caught age six stealing eggs from her patriarch's hens. Once marked as a thief, her only recourse was to marry outside the family at age 14, accept a low dowry, and live her live in the lower ranks of the Sinti family system. The collective memory of Sinti never forgot.

For the Global Village, Google, mailing list archives, WiKis and Weblogs are the collective memory of a commonwealth, rich in tales and memories of deeds done well and not so well. YASNF applications, like the résumé handed to a prospective employer, are reflections not of the person in question, but an idealized view in but a narrow accord of the applicant's relevant skills and mindset. Employment laws and professional courtesy forbids the giving of negative testimonial in regards to prospective employees, and just like the references given during pre-employment confabs, testimonials in YASNF are carefully screened and rarely indicative of the recipients actual values.

The danger in online research, however, lies not in its width and breadth. It lies anchored within the differences in social norms, folkways, means, and goals associated with either social circumference. Offline activities are adjusted to remain largely within the mores and laws of this world. Actions and reactions are measured through a sieve of knowledge and compared to those folkways and criteria concurrent with the social settings one hopes to enter or lives in.

Online, aside from the at-large setting of basic benchmarks, smaller groups exist by standards, means, and goals different from the unwired world. The acquisition of capital, the achievement of goals, is possible only through those means or through deviant acts unrelated to acts that might be perceived as deviant in other social settings. In fact, perfectly acceptable and normal behavior online might appear deviant to outside, offline, observers.

The conundrum of online and offline convergence is not easily solved. Responses to this all-too-visible issue range from attempts at an almost complete online anonymity to an adoption of ones online persona in offline settings.

And then there are those who endeavor to merge the personae found on- and offline into one holistic representation of ones skills, values, id, and appearance. Darren Barefoot puts it well, when he writes:

``For example, if you Google me in the near-term, you're probably going to read out about Flowers for Al and Don, this strange flower-buying campaign that I'm running at the moment. A potential employer might conclude from that that I'm queer as a three dollar bill. If they did, and didn't hire me as a result, then fair enough (well, not really, but that's not the point here). Even though I'm straight, I probably don't want to work for somebody who makes judgments like that.''

in which he accepts the convergence of his online and offline personality.

Betsy Devine, a well versed and much-read weblogger, however, cautions:

Don't blog your drinking habits, pet peeves, relationship issues, etc. in a personal blog that's on the first page of Google when Mr/Ms Beta types in your name.

Don't blog your drinking habits, pet peeves, relationship issues, etc. in a personal blog that's linked to from a site on the first page of Google when Mr/Ms Beta types in your name.

Hey--limit yourself to corporate/geeky stuff on any page linked to from Google results for your name.

A prospective employer of mine would find a number of things that, if taken out of context, might be construed as exactly the things, Betsy warns about. My writing at the "I Quit Drinking" weblog and my being a moderator of the "I Quit Drinking" bulletin board suggests a recent brush with alcoholism and my attempts at sobriety. Realistically, I would side with Darren here, conceding that an employer whose values are orthogonal to hiring a dry drunk would not be my choice of workplace anyways, but there is more to this. My activities on those two sites are of an advisory nature. I am not a recovering alcoholic, even though I stopped drinking alcohol about four years ago.

Likewise, my future boss may infer an unhealthy infatuation with guns and bar fights from my Google results page. He might conclude a number of things which, outside of context, as bare Google results, may prevent a hiring decision. But, to conclude, as I wrote yesterday in regards to my tattoos:

Which is, by the way, the reason I am wearing short sleeve shirts for interviews. You get the whole bundle, and you might as well inspect it before you buy.

I understand how others might feel differently about this issue. But for me, the 'net is part of who I am. It might not be "me" in the context of an unwired world, but my spending a considerable amount of time online has, of course, affected my presentation. It has cost me employment and it has created employment opportunities. The latter with companies whose understanding of the differences between the online and offline world are deeper, and therefore more conductive towards my skills and expertise.

In the end, it's anyone's decision. Netizen do well to remember that anything they say can and will be held against them at one point or another. And that is how it should be. Accountability for ones actions and convictions might just be the recipe for a more civilized society.

Latest blog entries     Older blog entries

New Advogato Features

New HTML Parser: The long-awaited libxml2 based HTML parser code is live. It needs further work but already handles most markup better than the original parser.

Keep up with the latest Advogato features by reading the Advogato status blog.

If you're a C programmer with some spare time, take a look at the mod_virgule project page and help us with one of the tasks on the ToDo list!