Over the last year or so, I have been brought to a heavy place internally to think honestly and deeply about anonymity online and what it really means for the most virtually, socially connected, and yet disconnected generation in human history. There are so many aspects to this that would make for what I believe to be a really good, but long doctoral dissertation in sociology (Hmmm. Something to think about in my personal future?) On the one hand I find the topic of anonymity to be absolutely fascinating while complex. And on the other, I am incredibly troubled by it, above all, from the aspect of human duplicity, or the “double life” as it were. In fact, as time passes I expect that there will be greater general public awareness in the arts (and by the arts I mean books, film and television) and the soon-to-be mythological dinner table discussion, beyond the world of scholars and journals. More and more people, I hope, will come to grips with the growing complexity and dark side of real versus virtual relationships, as it relates to our actual selves, and the opposite, who we express ourselves to be in virtuality (or referred to in the 90s as “virtual reality”), which is the internet or the virtual shadow.
I have determined that the virtual shadow is the actual or arbitrary shadow of the real physical person expressed by oneself on the internet through social media. Moreover, whether one expresses through a string of lies or raw unrestrained candor, there is nevertheless a real element of a person’s character being expressed, no matter how well-taken by any viewer or reader. It is in this sector of a new revised and updated form and power of anonymity online that I am troubled.
Why are the gateways to the virtual world, which are the typed word and the camera, becoming an increased form of communal gathering and source of catharsis instead of human to human interactions without the intermediary of the virtual medium? I dare say that even in the case of when a person expresses real and true thoughts and feelings about themselves very publicly online (through a blog, YouTube, Facebook or Twitter), revealing a real name, age and location or dwelling, there is a sense of comfort in doing so. And obviously this is true, or such mediums would not be in boom as we speak. But if a random stranger walks up to us on the street and asks for the same basic information–name, age and at least the city of residence–we would hesitate or question while simultaneously constructing a fight or flight strategy to avoid revealing such things, as we clutch our wallets or purses and pearls. The physical perils that cause such protective posturing should occur virtually as well. Yes? There are intimate details expressed in video and blog that we generally never see or hear in a public place through a megaphone. For further example, it is this very reality check that causes me to call into question the motive of a video blogger’s rant about a person’s social or even professional blunders without having confronted or ever intending to confront the offender! Think about that! This speaks to self-esteem, psychology and character right away. It’s chilling to think about, much less see.
It is among the strangest things in our new social world, in light of the fact that even the honest blogger, vlogger or average Facebook user, is still technically anonymous on a shadow-of-doubt principle, by way of the virtual medium and the human propensity to lie through the internet. Moreover, the small to large audience of a blogger, vlogger or Facebook user can be a scary statistical range of the, yet and still, relatively trustworthy to the psychopathic individual–the latter of which is looking for time and opportunity, like a roaring lion. We cannot predict or calculate what our anonymous viewers/readers are plotting or already doing to compromise our real sacred spaces, to include hacking of our virtual spaces. I would postulate that the thrill, the championing use, and vigor of internet anonymity today rides on the back of human frailty–that is, virtuality proves and enables humanity’s dark nature and baser instincts because of the possibility of deception without recompense. To go on a slightly more philosophical angle, it is the mere presence of a transcendent truth that privacy is sacred and the sacred versus the profane that stands as a law over us, revealing a distinction in our nature and thinking about what we will and will not reveal to others. I would go so far as to say that the profane is the contemptuous exposure of what is inherently and in some cases, can become sacred, or deserves careful protection for the benefit of one to a select few. Secrecy in truth has its real and rightful place because of the reality of evil. But when secrecy is abused to commit the evil it was built to defend against, we have an even bigger problem.
Where along the timeline of perhaps, 1980 to the present, did this paradigm shift toward what even just seven years ago, a majority of our collective societal conscience would frown upon and characterize as reckless and compromising behavior? What slow and low cooking pot did we fall into and how? What are the rules and protections that will keep us from turning the heat up on ourselves to roast ourselves into full whole-hog pornography of our essential selves so contemptuously. Better, what fence did we slowly tear down to get here? Or how much is too much before we recognize we are shaming ourselves? What transcendent voice from the heavens will look upon humanity as a whole to say, “Woe! Stop! You are blind to your own shameful nakedness”?
Even I as a blogger and vlogger, I am included in this number of compulsive technically anonymous self-revelators, while having revealed my real facial identity, name and city of residence.
Now, I am no Luddite. And I am not against social media…entirely (obviously–I include texting, email and blogging), the internet, mobile technology and anything else related. I am simply deeply reflecting upon the casual-to-dark sides of their use by us. I am also implicitly commenting and pondering the role of human nature and virtual anonymity’s enabling influence upon our nature. I know there are some who would disagree with my implied belief of an inherent human evil nature. Fine. But I am not necessarily seeking to debate that point here. But it is apparent to me and my thought process that stems from personal experience, the preponderance of philosophical, historical, and theological argument for inherent human evil.
Have you thought about this deeply and honestly too?
I am at least thinking about this and how I want to shape my future through my present beliefs, and my actions upon those beliefs. I have to stop long enough to evaluate and change my thinking so that I do not regret my future past. I do not want to be drunk on the moody cultural tides of change, shaped by reckless bandwagon-ing responses to exponential technological innovations, with their heavy influence upon the socioeconomic landscape, for example. Consider that more and more people swipe a card sooner than slapping down cold cash money for even a regular cup of coffee.
I want to figure out how plugged in is too much for me and what I really desire from life. I want to know just how much of our flattening world (to borrow from Thomas Friedman’s book, “The World is Flat”) is too flat for my personal values and beliefs? Am I anti-globalization? Yes and no. But I don’t see it stopping any time soon, and to confess, a lot of things I like in my life are direct benefits of a flattening world. Therefore, I find myself regularly evaluating and even moralizing upon our changing world daily, as to how I have to fit into it or not, and what new common patterns of this world I can indulge or should forgo.
It seems the new and improved anonymity of today has redefined what privacy is. And it seems that new and improved anonymity of today is both a powerful ally and a diabolical threat all at once, and increasingly so through the virtualization (made up phrase) of privacy, or how the internet’s freedom is abused. Just consider cyber bullying if you think all I have written here is mere hyperbole.
Watch the film “Disconnect” and a new upcoming film, “Men, Women and Children.” The former is not for children’s eyes I will confess, much less mine. But I persisted through the “Crash”-like movie style cliche and explicit scenes, because it proved to be a raw and real parabolic motion picture, and a warning in my eyes. It was a warning to stop, think and make a value judgement for this new age of digitization.
As an afterthought, and practical virtues of social media aside, I have not even begun to address the vacuum of loss that anonymity and virtualization adds to real life relationships when textationships, Facebookships, bloggerships, vloggerships and the like replace physical relationships. Just consider the percentage of one’s time spent communicating with people through a virtual medium as opposed to face-to-face interaction–not to include work and long distance relationships of any sort. There may be far more troubling truths to come as it relates to what I have conveyed in this post. I think history will tell us what the long-term affects of not considering the irreversible fait accompli we face when it comes to the dark side of too fast, too furious social-technological innovations.
To be continued…