In Real Life: Love, Lies & Identity in the Digital Age, by Nev Schulman

So, ever one to broaden my horizons (in a mild sort of way) viz today's digital world, I accepted a copy of In Real Life: Love, Lies & Identity in the Digital Age, by Nev Schulman.  I thought it would be interesting for me to read, and possibly useful for sharing with my young teen.  And it was definitely the former, though not so much, at this point in time, the later (he's still not on line that much, and rather young for his age....).

Nev Schulman is the host of MTV's program, catfish, which I had never heard of before reading this book.  I had heard, from afar, about catfishing--the way some people create online identities of whole cloth and use them to manipulate others.   What makes this particular book interesting is not just its discussion of the many ways in which people catfish, but Nev Shulman's open sharing of his own experience as a victim.  He fell hard for a girl who, along with her whole family and community, didn't exist as the people they appeared to be online.  And this story, fascinating in its own right, leads to thought provoking discussion of what makes people trust the people they find online.    Nev Schulman is a story teller, rather than a sociologist or psychologist, but the particular story he tells here and his struggle to make sense of his own experience hold their own just fine (even though I wouldn't have minded a bit of academic gloss....)

It's good reading not just for those interesting in catfishing per se, but for everyone who has at some point created an online persona, and wondered about the authenticity of their own digital selves and the communities of which they are part.   I am pretty sure that most everyone I know in the kidlitosphere is pretty much who they say they are, and I am pretty sure that I am who I am saying I am (although one never knows....), but of course all of us have silences, and bits of personal thin ice, that make this whole business of public sharing at least something of a construct....

So in any event the book was very interesting reading, and I am much less likely to fall victim to catfishing now than I was before (and I am left wondering if anyone has ever tried-- pitches for fantasy books that don't exist, or something like that-- but I don't think that blogging, unlike, say, Facebook, is as amenable to the sort of personal rapprochement that good catfishing requires....)

In any event, all the bloggers that I've met in real life were pretty much what I was expecting (ie, lovely people) and I am happily planning on sharing a room at Kidlitcon with someone (KarenYingling) I've never met (and who I am very much looking forward to finally meeting!).

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


  1. I have thought about this from time to time, as someone who has had a significant number of friendships with people I've never met, from my teens till now. There was once when a message board I helped run asked someone to leave and she came back under a different identity and was causing issues and we discovered it and had to block her and explain what happened and it was all Very Dramatic!

    But that was a different set of people and I've found my corner of the blogging/kidlitosphere worlds to be remarkably free from 1) the kind of infighting/backbiting I've seen other places and 2) the kind of deception involved in catfishing. There are certainly kerfuffles, but not usually ones that directly involve people I know. Which does make me happy, generally.

    And of course there's a certain degree of reticence about personal stuff that I think most of us book bloggers have. I was bit hesitant to say much when my dad was sick and around when he died, but of course people were really lovely. And then people with kids have another set of considerations!

    I'm rambling on, but I am very interested in digital identity and how we choose to construct it.

  2. I find it fascinating too! Of course, most of my fascination comes from wondering how I am presenting myself...and how much about my kids a determined reader could pull from a close inspection of all my posts....

    I think I filter the blogs I read, with one subset being "people whose personal stuff I am always interested in." And I think without that subset, the effort of blogging wouldn't be worthwhile.

  3. This is yet another area in which I am interested, too. I read one blog in which the mom-blogger writes lots of stuff about her family, her kids, and their life together. The information is very helpful and personal, such how they dealt with the Alzheimer's of her father and how the blogger herself is dealing with PTSD. However, the blogger herself is anonymous, and she uses nicknames for all the children and other family members and doesn't tell where they live (somewhere in the Midwest, I think) or give any information that would enable me or anyone else to actually find them. However, I'm sure that if someone were determined and had the time and some money, the family could be found.

    I've thought about being anonymous myself so that I could share more personal information without its affecting others in my life, but it's too late, unless I were to come up with a whole new internet identity :) Anyway, it is fascinating. Not only does "an internet persona" enable you to scam people, but it also paradoxically allows you to share anonymously things that are too personal to share with your real name and identity attached. (Kind of like PostSecret)


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