By Sarah Eckrich
If there’s one thing you should know about me, it is that I have blogged compulsively, almost daily, since I was twelve years old. It has afforded me the unique opportunity to reflect on my life and the world around me, and watch what makes people respond and how. It has also offered me the chance to play with the concept of revealing information about oneself openly versus anonymously.
The idea of privacy is very different now in the age of social media than it was once upon a time. We all have a web site; we are all someone important with loads of “friends” who know all about our personal lives. We thrust ourselves onto the world to be seen by employers, educators, government agencies, and just about any monkey with an Internet connection. Or do we?
By a show of hands, how many of you have pictures or ideas or thoughts that you wouldn’t ever think of putting on your Facebook page or blog? Is it because your friends wouldn’t accept them? Is it because society wouldn’t understand? Is it because you’re embarrassed about these things? Ponder this—do you answer questions on surveys differently when you know that your identity will never be disclosed? The answer is yes, to this question, and the first. Yes, and if you’re shaking your head right now saying “no,” then you are a liar.
There is freedom in disconnecting who you really are from who you’d like to be—quarantining the unpopular, outspoken bits which could cause enough uproar that it compels you to keep them hidden. It doesn’t have to be a big thing, either. For example, J.K. Rowling began using initials for her first name at the suggestion of her publisher out of a fear that people would be less likely to read her books if they knew she was a woman (the “J.K.” being androgynous, and the “K” being completely fictitious). Along similar lines, Daniel Radcliffe has poetry published under the name “Jacob Gershon” to disassociate his poetry from his celebrity.
It’s fantastic if you’re Samuel Clemens and you get recognized in your lifetime for the successes of Mark Twain and people know those words and ideas were yours. What if Huck Finn had never become a household name? What happens to all of the unknown authors out there whose work never makes it that far? Do they slink silently away, praising their respective deities, or lack thereof, for saving them the public embarrassment? I can’t help but to think it’s a little cowardly.
I certainly understand the practical purposes of anonymity—some heightened sense of security, freedom from many kinds of bias, freedom to speak openly without any impact on judgments of your character. There’s a fine line between using anonymity for some protection, and exploiting it to express things you are fearful of having connected to you. Certainly there is a time and place to be anonymous, but on the whole it leads to chaos and the inability of society as a whole to grow to meet changing mindsets, attitudes, and lifestyles.
Rather than be an unknown, a nobody, or an invented self, I encourage anyone acting surreptitiously, disconnecting craft or actions from self, to strip away the mask. If you are controversial, embrace it. If you are scared, grab the inner courage you’ve been too afraid to try to reach. We can’t go on forever separating ourselves into tiny fragments trying to decide which pieces fit which situation. Social discretion, like not dropping F-bombs in a church, is one thing. When you accept your own denial of your own opinions by creating a false self, how do you hold on to who you really are?
More importantly, what is there really to be afraid of?