Anonymous Coward vs. Superhero
August 14, 2006
Disclaimer: By Superhero, I am not being gender-biased, but using it in a generic sense, like Actor also encompasses females, and by anonymous, I also mean those with partially shielded info, or those with virtual identities that cant be tracked to their real identities (like pen-name, I say keyboard-name)
I had been thinking of “Anonymity” in virtual life for some time, and thought of putting some perspectives. My question is: Why do people (I am your anonymous partner in this crime) maintain anonymity? be it on blogs, or forums, or Orkut?
Firstly, let me bust the myth! There is nothing called “absolute anonymity”. The technologically advanced can track every click of yours, your IP, your ISP, your OS and browser, your Geo location.. and I am aware of the traces I leave online.. so it is quite easy to track me down. The stats feature (or the whois feature) allows one to remove your cloak of secrecy and bust you, even if it makes you think that commenting from firstname.lastname@example.org is safer.
Next, anonymity in real life: There are occasions where people (in general) yearn for anonymity in real life: when one is smoking/drinking in India or when one is with somebody of the opposite gender at a coffee shop, when one is so pissed off at the prying eyes of the society that anonymity is a boon..
So, the question is: WHY maintain anonymity in virtual life? Why cant one come out and be a superhero.. stand for whatever their opinions are.. not be afraid of what society thinks of them, or their opinions? There are various reasons, which I gathered from my research (I invite other dimensional analysis from you):
- Flow of thoughts: For many, unless there is this freedom from not being judged, freedom from the “I-know-what-you-blogged-last-summer” threat is present, the creative juices dont start to flow
- The feeling of being a superhero (pseudo?): There is an air of mystery associated with the anonymous or those with fake/virtual identities.. This argument holds good. A normal human tends to lose interest if the virtual identity is “parda-faashed” (is stripped of..) and the real him/her is known to the world. The lesser the info, the more the mystery, and hence more interest! So you feel like a Superman/Spiderman 🙂
- Nowadays, employers (or in my case, prospective employers) google for you before they take you in. Why? So that you dont stand for something outrageous/extreme.. it is a safe measure they take so that they dont have to repent for your intake later. Now how do your opinions matter to them? Hmmn, because you are part of them, and some dumb people might perceive your voice to be that of the company, even if it is on “Who is hotter, Sonali Bendre or Sonali Kulkarni”.
- People (in society) judge you from what you write/opine on. And many times they are wrong (especially about a schizophrenic person like me), but still it is dangerous to let those words out about someone with whom relations matter. Some of my close friends know the two of us (the “real” and “virtual” me), some dont. But evenif some know, I can openly write about them, or make fun of them, because they are okay with it. OFFTOPIC: for instance, one roomie of mine reads this space, and I can still say “dude, your choice of World War I era music sucks. It feels as if I am at Hitler’s concentration camp listening to those K.L. Saigal songs” or that my other roomie listens to the type of songs that are generally sung in railway coaches.. by beggars/handicapped/homeless kids.. which evoke lots of sympathy and you feel like pouring out (when I was going to Chennai consulate: “tum to thehre pardesi, saath kya nibhaogey”.. sooo true.. PS: and I didnt mean to poke fun at those kids, but it was meant for my roomie).
Now the bigger question, DOES IT MATTER? Does it matter if the virtual person is a female or male? Does it matter if the other person is not what he/she projects to be.. For society, yes! because it is human tendancy to start profiling a being (person or dog) right from the point any kind of interaction/communication begins. And it becomes an unsolved mystery as to who the real person is. As regards to me, I am a schizophrenic alien writing from Mars in the distant future. And careful, I am watching you 😀