In the course of gently publicizing the Vegas Group project across recent weeks, I have been reminded that most people assume Reason to be a pseudonym. It isn’t – Reason is actually my name. The way this works in the offline world, face to face, is much as follows:
Rude Person: Your name is Reason? Really? Really?
Rude Person: Oh.
And there it stops.
In the online world, sad to say, it is never that simple. To a certain extent I blame the growth of social network culture for the present level of confusion regarding privacy, anonymity, and abuse of anonymity – people have a way of conflating these three into one, when they are in fact quite separate items. Within the world of Facebook and the like, surrounded by the illusion of transparent vision into every trivial detail of the lives of others, people are forgetting both the simple courteous act of respecting privacy and the important differences between privacy and anonymity.
It should be remembered that the view of the lives of others provided by social networks is a fake: you are looking at a front, a presented facade. The only difference between that and email conversations – or exchanges of written letters – lies in the level of detail and immediacy. But I think that the ersatz appearance of lives lived like an open book cultivates a corrosive sense of entitlement quite unlike the cultural changes brought on by earlier forms of mass communication: that one is entitled to know a great deal about any other person, irrespective of their wishes on the subject. This is grossly impolite and disrespectful when carried from thought into action. Courtesy and privacy are intimately linked, and respect for a person must include a respect for their boundaries of privacy.
As it happens, I am a very private individual, something of a dying breed these days. I do not use social networks, as I gain little value from them. It isn’t within my comfort zone for you to know where I work, what I look like, where I live, how I like my toast cooked, who I hang out with, who I connect with, and the thousand other trivialities that make up the evolving social network culture of zealous and carefully gardened oversharing. More and more often these days, I am finding that the response to my desired level of privacy is outright hostility – that a person feels entitled to know these things about me, and that this knowledge is in some way required for even the most trivial of communications.
This would no doubt seem ridiculous to our ancestors of past centuries, who communicated their thoughts to the distant reaches of the world in long-form essays. A person was judged from afar by their words, and the name attached to those words was the most trivial of identifiers. If you cannot produce a measured response to the messages contained in the hundreds of thousands of words that comprise Fight Aging!, then how is knowing what I look like going to help you? It won’t, of course, and neither will knowing how I like my toast cooked.
In short, I am private, not anonymous – and that fact shouldn’t matter one way or another. Judge by words and actions, not by characteristics that have little relationship to either. For the vocal few who apparently care deeply about such things, I’ll point out that you would have said nothing and felt fine if the tagline on this blog and my emails said “John Smith” or some other form of bland, generic name. Doesn’t that indicate that your approach to considering anonymity is broken in some fundamental way?
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