Icons, Pseudonyms, and Avatars – Oh My!

“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”

Oscar Wilde

Struggling to figure out why a workforce does not actively participate on an Internet-based forum, wiki, blog commentary or other space may be as simple as permitting the use of a pseudonyms and avatar representations. The digital age has brought us shared spaces and opportunities to collaborate and communicate globally, doing so often requires some form of registration. Organizations have some very specific username protocols for purposes of identification, attendance, and documentation. “Silly” names and avatar representations are not acceptable. If the purpose for restrictive naming conventions is one of the above listed reasons the naming protocols work. However, if the purpose is to engage participants in meaningful discourse, allowing a mask is worth consideration.

It’s ironic that an organization that classifies dissenting views and open discussion as “problem solving” may not have an issue with naming conventions, yet would likely have employees choosing to use actual names and identifiable photographs. Conversely, an institution that manages (real or perceived) by fear, inhibiting ideas that stray from the established ways could benefit from the use of pseudonyms to help increase a creative synergy, yet those types of organizations likely have a more restricted naming culture and requirement.

The concept translates into the classroom with the known principle of the use of puppets used to convey thoughts and feelings without fear. A student using a pseudonym may be able to ignore a lack of confidence and produce writing that is more creative and meaningful, allow for a more relaxed practice in learning a foreign language, or allow for a non-prejudiced peer review. The Nom de Plum has a history in literature, used for a range of reasons and resulting in recognizable pseudonyms sometimes mistaken for a real name. George Orwell, Lewis Carroll, Mark Twain and George Elliott are pseudonyms, conversely Nora Roberts and Stephen King have produced work under pseudonyms that are less recognizable. The use of pseudonyms for students may provide a layer of privacy and safety while providing broader Internet access and more freedom of expression. Perhaps the strategy will help prepare the next great author, inventor, or citizen who is confident in challenging the norm for potential improvement.

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