A truism of our multi-personaed lives.

A Google search on that classic sentence brings up about 1800 pages. About half of these also mention Vonnegut, and half of those mention Mother Night. The others either attribute the sentence to someone else, or what seems to more often be the case, don't attribute it at all.

And perhaps they shouldn't. Though there seems to be a general consensus that it was first coined by Vonnegut, it seems to have become rather ubiquitous. Without a copy of the book in your hands it's hard to be sure (if it really matters) just what the correct quote is. At least 1200 hits show up when we switch we with you, for instance, and most of these credit Vonnegut as well.

I certainly wasn't expecting to find a version of the phrase in a listing of quotes from the camp classic Xena: Warrior Princess, though perhaps I should have.
Palamon: I said I could learn something from you and I did.
Xena: Oh?
Palamon: That you are who you pretend to be. So you'd better pretend to be something you can live with.
Xena showed up long ago in these pages, when I referred to an almost indecipherable doctoral dissertation that made extensive use of hypertext. And here she is again, provoking deep philosophical thoughts.

One recent blog entry from a blogger who researches social networks credits Sherry Turkle in her book 1995 book Life on the Screen with telling us that "you are who you pretend to be". Actually, I think that Turkle only quotes one of her interviewees when that phrase shows up. And of course without the additional admonition of Vonnegut it seems to lose its punch. The blog entry actually argues with Turkle, correctly observing that "this story doesn't work anymore". He adds:
The internet strikes me as a pretty lousy place to play identity games. Indeed, if you really want to be like something else, go do it in reality. Drive to the next city over, drop off the car someplace inconspicuous, walk a few miles, and pay cash. At least those moments will pass quickly.
There's something a bit saddening about the fact that the era of online persona experimentation seems to be coming to a close. And this seems to suggest that the warning of the second part of Vonnegut's classic phrase demands to be heeded.

Go to: Mother Night on the web.