Confusing Anonymity, Online and Off

We live in an age where anonymity is growing in magnitude like a bomb going off.
~Jock Sturges

an�o�nym�i�ty a) The quality or state of being unknown or unacknowledged. b) One that is unknown or unacknowledged.

"Protections for anonymous speech are vital to democratic discourse. Allowing dissenters to shield their identities frees them to express critical, minority views . . . Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. . . . It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights, and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation . . . at the hand of an intolerant society." ~McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission

The issue of anonymity has been swimming around in my head for awhile now, and I think it's something we need to explore a bit. What is not all that important to me may be a screaming issue to you, and that, I do believe, can make the difference between trust and safety. Help me hash this out, would you?

Fading into the crowd.

This is the part of the whole issue that really ruffles my feathers. No matter what part of life you look at, you are just one of many. You are a member of a family - the daughter, the son, the cousin, second cousin or aunt. You share the same last name, presumably, so this fading-into-the-family anonymity is one of those biology things. It's just worse for those coming from a large family.

This anonymity thing, right from the get-go since we're born into a family, starts working from Day #1 to squash individuality.

From the time I came screeching into the world, I'm pretty sure I fought like a banshee any time that my individuality has been threatened. Since I was a really shy and quiet kid, those outbursts were the equivalent of WWIII. Pink? You want me to wear pink? Not in this lifetime!  You want to do what with my hair? I didn't want toys, I wanted books, drawing pads, music instruments - and a horse. As anonymous as it already was, I couldn't imagine the horror of wearing the same thing to school that someone else had on, let alone an entire school of kids wearing the same thing like in a Catholic School. And then, the only recognition you get for getting straight A's across the board was an A on a little piece of cardboard to your parents. Whoop-de-doo.

Go to a store, a concert, sit on a city bus or subway and you become part of the crowd. Your individuality gets lost in the sheer numbers of anonymous people.

Flapping it in the wind.

On the other hand, there's no doubt that more than a few people have paid with their lives for putting it all out there, speaking out and standing up for what is right. MalcomX, Martin Luther King Jr., and why can't I remember more? It surprised me to learn that MalcomX went from fighting for black rights to fighting for human rights. When he grew to that point, he stepped out from behind the anonymity of being just another black troublemaker. He paid with his life.

So, we sacrifice our individuality for the sake of our life? That doesn't make sense to me. Individuality is our freedom! It seems to me that the problem is more that some people assume they have the right to declare themselves superior and dictate what individuals do and say. That is not society, that is totalitarianism.

The online world.

Every day, we walk through different parts of our lives that require that we focus on specific aspects which in turn alters our behavior. Just waking up and stumbling toward the kitchen for coffee, there is no focus, nor is there a need for it. Pillow head, bad breath and bags under our eyes greet those that live with us, and that's normal. It's the way we are. At work, focus kicks in, and that requires a specific set of behaviors to maintain that focus and do the job. Thinking about facts and figures kicks in a certain formality in our personality. And that's normal.

Driving home from work, another focus is needed, and for some, the behaviors can turn into a raging maniac behind the wheel, or a total goof singing badly at the top of the volume scale. Stopping at the store is yet another focus, and another set of behaviors, mostly patience. At home is dinner with the family as focus and yet another set of behaviors as our role demands. And, that's normal.

Psychology calls all these different sets of behaviors personas. These personas are our way of navigating through our lives in the best way possible for us. The personas sit between your ego and the world and helps protect your ego by filtering though the stuff coming at you. You slide from one persona to the next seamlessly as your changing situations dictate. This is all normal.

So, when we sit down at our computer and begin to do what we do online, there is a focus and another set of behaviors that is our online persona.

Take a second and think about that. The majority of what we do online is write. I have always been comfortable writing and expressing my thoughts and ideas through writing. In person, I speak the way I write. Or, I write the way I speak. But, the act of writing gives me the focus I need to cleanly and clearly express the thoughts and ideas in my head. There are times when I don't speak so cleanly and clearly, believe me. I am who and what I am, whether I'm writing or talking. That's the way I choose to be. "Me" is my online persona.

Everyone's online persona is how they navigate and perceive it as a part of their lives.

It's your turn.

I've opened a can of worms here. I get the feeling that until we all come to terms with the Internet and it becomes something more than a crazy library or source of entertainment to us, it will continue to be something adamantly accepted or controversial in its purpose and value. We, as individuals, need to look within and clarify to ourselves and for ourselves, our online personas.

There's a whole lotta worms in that ol' can, and I've just scratched the surface here. What role does the Internet play in your life? What are some of your concerns?


  1. The internet is my outlet. I can be whatever I feel on my blog without fear of tarnishing my guys career or reputation.

    You see in public I have to be put together, polite, agreeable and cival to EVERYONE because I am a reflection on my well known "news guy". I have to be what people expect me to be... a trophy wife or a stepford wife- you know all perfect and pleasant all the time.

    Problem is I am just like everyone else and I like to be able to speak my mind or rant if I need it. I solved my problems by creating my little blog identity.

  2. It seems like a good solution for you, a safe place to be completely you. That's a good way to balance things out for yourself. That seemingly forced role of the wife of a celebrity is more exaggerated than what most endure. I tend to stay home a lot instead of having to put myself through public paces, and I don't even have 'celebrity' to worry about!

  3. This is an excellent post. You've raised so many good questions and made some excellent points.

    At the beginning, my inexperience with the blogging world created a few minor problems for me. I wasn't sure how to interact, how much of myself to divulge and what focus to take. Somehow the blog evolved on its own and through trial and error I began to "figure" some things out.

    After about 10 months of blogging, I have made a few decisions "finally."

    1. tone casual but professional
    2. maintain a small circle of "trusted" and respected "blogger friends" -interact on a more friendly and personal level
    3. keep my identity low key (not hidden)
    4. add more security features when I surf

    I am not 100% comfortable with the Internet, so I am careful about who I interact with and how much gets said. I am cautious about where I go and what I do online as well.

    In my "real world" I am somewhat low key and reserved, careful not to offend and usually mindful of other people's feelings. I do however speak my mind "fearlessly" when I have strong feelings about something, so I guess I am somewhat the same online too...

    Really enjoyed this post. Thanks.

  4. I enjoy your blog, Professor, and I think you've settled into the medium quite well!

    We all could blog forever about all the topics that are possible since it's relatively infinite. And, each person could contribute to all the discussions and keep them going infinitely because each one of us has that much within ourselves to share!

    The point is that we don't have to talk about "Me, Myself and I" in order to share a great deal. The process of writing evolves from talking about yourself to talking to and then finally talking with others walking a comparable path.

    I'm glad you stopped by, Professor!

  5. To me the online world offered a relief of the person who I had to be offline. That would be a loyal friend and a presentable daughter. Those were the two reasons why I decided to go anonymous online, even though anonymity isn't really my cup of tea, I WANT TO BE accountable of what I blurt out. But it proved to be quite an refreshing state, I could publicly tell people what I felt about things... Not necessarily anything you should be terribly ashamed about, but simple things you can't tell people. Like that you're tired of making yourself smaller to allow your best friend have some attention as well. (I could get all the attention I wanted all to myself on my website.) I loosened the reigns eventually and became a weird hybrid between an anonymous persona and the public one. I stopped caring what some people thought of me, as most of them would applaud to me anyway. Some people just don't count. It's none of my business what some people think of me. Anonymity was a practise of becoming who I am publicly. The funny thing is, that the whole of my family-in-law calls me by my previously anonymous online nick name - Sebastyne, Sebbie for short. But it is hard on the ego to accept the competition of attention when there's more or less the same amount of people demanding attention as there are giving it. It can get tiring online, that you have to prove your value constantly through page ranks and what not, when you have gotten used to just walking out and being noticed. Online you are just one more visitor in the statistics, while in real life you've used to being the visitor that the bouncers picked out of the queue to visit their place just because.

    Judging by the length of my comment, I need to blog about the topic as well. :D

  6. It seems like the journaling aspect of blogging is a valuable tool for you, Sebbie. I hadn't thought about it before, but you still remain anonymous if you don't let anyone in your offline life know about your blog.