April 13th, 2012

On Anonymity

Yesterday I encountered a blog whose comment section wasn’t linked up with Facebook or Disqus. It was just a pure email/display name system from years past – one where no one had any interest in tracking your activity across the entire interwebs. Putting in a display name that maybe wasn’t your full name – first and last – was totally OK. And so I put in an alias, and said my piece.

And it was great. Not because I was trolling or had ill intentions, but mostly because I felt like once again I could be free to say what I wanted — there wasn’t that tinge that I feel every time I press “send” on a social network, that this particular comment/tweet/whatever is going to be tied to my name forever and ever. Identity control is necessary in some ways, I get that. Spammers and trolls ruined it for everyone (I use Disqus here mostly to combat spam). For me though, I guess I want to be free to change my opinions sometimes without the digital paper trail.

The problem with most social networks is the assumption that your life is linear and that people are interested in accumulating their own personal histories in one single repository.

I just don’t buy it. I think that is facebook’s core error – this belief that the digital world is becoming increasingly identity-based rather than persona-based.

Identity isn’t singular.

In my mind this is one of the most pressing issues for maturing social networks – this idea that the network will need to adapt as identities shift and change. This was perhaps the root of some of the Instagram-Facebook-Acquisition animosity — that we were all so ready to create a new network where we felt free again, and the idea of merging it back is sort of sad and depressing, in the same way that forcing someone to hang out with their high school classmates again is a bummer. Jenna Wortham said it most eloquently: “The sale of Instagram brings a harsh reality into focus, the realization that the secret rooms or private spaces online where we can share, chit-chat and hang out with our friends are fading. The few safe havens that do exist are quickly being encroached upon or are next on the shopping list for a company like Google, Apple or Facebook.”

Maybe I am overly optimistic or naive, but I think privacy is one of those core emotions that we unknowingly fight to protect. It won’t disappear, though it will evolve. The rebellion against this notion of singular identity is coming – reinvention is simply too important to let fade away.

Share This Post: