When I’m Not Me

Photo of blocks that say "this is who I am"

Okay, so, this morning over my morning coffee I was trying to send a photo from my phone to my computer via text message. I’m not sure why Android and iOS can’t speak directly to each other, but that’s a question for another day. Looking at my contact information it got me contemplating the following question… Why is my contact entry for me  in my phone’s contact app showing up as “Laura (My Daughter)”?

I mean, I certainly am Laura, but I’m not “my daughter” last I checked. Fortunately, this mystery wasn’t hard to figure out. I recently started managing some of my mother’s digital accounts, including her email. And with the email, came the list of her contacts. As a result, I’ve been using my phone for (yet) another persona. In addition to the Me-as-Me personas, I now also had the Me-as-the-Manager-of-My-Mom’s-Accounts persona.

Now, I know how tricky this can be, so I had meticulously kept these personas separate using all of the techniques available to me. BUT, I secured an adorable new phone, and WHAM! all of that hard work went down the drain. My new phone may be cute, but it ain’t too smart when it comes to personas. So, it “helpfully” put all of the contacts together from the six email accounts that I manage, including those from work and my mother’s. AND, since my mother’s account was the last one to join the fray, I guess it decided that because it was the most recent one added, it should be added to my contact list, AND must be the one that was most up to date. Wrong and wrong.

We all have different personas

Maybe you’re not managing a parent’s email, but I’m willing to bet that you are still managing multiple digital personas. (And, if you’re not, you may consider doing so by the time you finish reading this series of posts!) Your personas may include:

  • You as a student where you learned cool things (and maybe did things that only students can get away with!)
  • You as an employee at a place where your values didn’t align with those of the organization
  • You as  an employee at a place where you loved your work and the people you worked with
  • You as volunteer at an organization that will save the world
  • And, you as a friend… sibling… family member…

Don’t get me wrong – these are all YOU! But, the personas exist in parallel universes. (No, I’m not talking about #spiderverse!) You talk about different things when you’re assuming each persona – you may behave differently, wear different clothes, and maybe even speak a different language. Keeping these personas separate in real life is pretty straightforward (unless you’re starring in a romantic comedy), but once you put them into the digital world, there needs to be structures and policies to help you keep these personas separate.

Congratulations, you’ve now entered the realm of digital identity.

Hardware separation

Maybe you work for a company that provides a computer or phone to you, and instructs you to use it only for work purposes. They may further warn you that your activity when using these devices (hardware) can and will be subject to monitoring. This is a not-too-uncommon way for companies to provide clarity for the claim they hold on the personas you assume while working for the organization. If owned by a larger organization, devices like these will contain tools and policy enforcers that are both designed to ensure that the company information housed on the device is secure, and also to ensure that anyone using the device is doing so in a way that is consistent with the company’s policies.

In general, this is a good thing. The company is taking the responsibility and initiative to ensure that company information is safe, secure, and accessible… for and by the company. But, what happens when you use your company computer to book your next doctor’s appointment? Or the cutie at the coffee shop that you just met sends you a text on your work cell phone? (After all, that’s the one you check first during the day!) In these cases, you may have switched to thinking of yourself in a non-work persona, but the device hardware is unlikely to be switching persona contexts with you; rather your computer and cell phone are firmly in your you-at-work persona. This can lead to some awkward side effects. Who wants their boss asking them what Dr. None of Your Business’s website has to do with the upcoming project report!? Even Hillary uses two separate phones now.

Oh look. You’re back in the realm of digital identity

Software separation

The same goes for software. Software separation of personas will allow you to be all the versions of you in one glorious device… Well, sort of. There is the tedious process of switching between them. If you have more than one Instagram, Twitter, or any other type of account as I do, I’m sure you have had at least one near-miss (or total fail) by posting content from the wrong account. (please say that I’m not the only one!)

Even if you are an expert account switcher, there are other things to contemplate. While you may be working hard to keep your personas separate, other players may have great interest in trying to stitch the many facets of you back together again. For example, you may use Facebook mainly to keep in touch with a group you hung out with in college, Instagram to share photos with family, and WhatsApp to chat with close friends. It feels like you’re keeping things separate. But consider that all three of these tools are owned by the same company and that this said company may use data from your interactions to build a non-persona delineated view of you. Armed with this information, things that you shared with your more trusted audiences might be leveraged to influence your behavior when you’re assuming a persona where you might be more cautious. Developing ways to enforce true separation here is something that digital identity professionals think about every day.

Geez… does this realm of digital identity ever end?!


Ugh – the digital world makes me have to be so SPECIFIC ABOUT EVERYTHING! It’s not possible to put on a hat and some sunglasses to become anonymous citizen #1. And, even when you want to be known, keeping your personas separate is a grand task that can’t be overstated. Keep an eye out for other posts and an Identity Flash Mob event as we dig into these challenges and how you stay on top of them.

Photo by Felicia Buitenwerf on Unsplash; Derivative by Laura Paglione

Posted by Laura Paglione

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