Sometime as the late 1990s and early 2000’s rolled past, I observed that “everyone else has an online nickname or avatar” and it seemed that I ought to have one, too. Those were the days before the advent of modern-style social media. I was reading books by Lessig; I was a GNU/Linux fan/advocate. I generally had a bit of a utopian view of “being online”. Honestly, though, I wasn’t really much of a participant – mostly I thought the idea of an online social space was cool, probably because of science-fiction tropes that I grew up reading.
Years earlier, when my wife and I married in the early 1990s, we adopted two cats. We named one of them Paola after a character in Thomas Pynchon’s novel V., a book which had a big impact on me a couple years earlier while I was an undergraduate University student.
Our cat Paola passed away in 2009; here she is in a 1999 photo:
It seemed that the idea of using names from this novel was a pattern to leverage! Stencil was another character in the same Pynchon novel. Since presumably a desirable property of an online name is uniqueness, the tension between this goal and the notion of a stencil amused me. Despite this tension, the composite name stencilv seemed likely to be unused, and – to my ear, at least – stencilv made a reasonable sounding online name. Voilà!
But: having conjured the nickname, I didn’t immediately find a good use for it; in the end, the failure of an account name to suggest my actual identity mostly seemed annoying – especially for something like an email account. Some years later, and on a whim, I used the stencilv nickname for my last.fm account – my previous objection seemed less important for an account whose main task was keeping track of music I’d scrobbled. (In fact, Last.fm tells me I’ve been scrobbling as stencilv since August 2005). The nickname’s usage in last.fm created some momentum, so I used it again a few years later for my twitter handle. But my usage of the nickname through twitter hasn’t been especially prominent; for several years, I ignored the account. I now use twitter as a news-aggregator. (Well, strictly speaking, I use nuzzel as a news aggregator, by pointing it at my twitter feed). I interact with media using links from twitter a fair amount, and I “like” and occasionally “re-tweet” stuff, but I wouldn’t say that I use the platform socially.
Now finally I’m using the nickname for this website/blog. With luck, I’ll continue writing here, so maybe the name will last!?