The merits of anonymity

December 28, 2007 in It is what it is - opinion column | Comments (0)


As a rule, today’s digitally dynamic world requires an acceptance of living one’s life in an almost thoroughly transparent manner.
Put simply, if there’s something you don’t want people to know, it has become a conscious decision with considerable effort to keep it private. At least that’s the case for folks such as myself whose carbon-based lives oftentimes sit in the shadow of our digital selves.
Of course, some might argue that the Internet is anonymous and that there are many people who hide behind the Web’s ample skirts, refusing to show their faces either with the intention of embracing an alter ego or, as so sadly is often the case, to skulk in shadows so they can deliver nasty comments and criticism to others.
But for the most part, the on-line realm exists as place where all things are laid bare for any and all watchers. Some applications do exist, however, that offer an invisibility cloak of sorts, and it is thanks to such an application that I’ve had a rather amusing time of late.

It’s a Facebook application called Honesty Box.
Essentially this application allows you to send a completely anonymous note to anyone in Facebook. Well, not just anyone, really. You need to either be in their friend list or part of one of their networks.
The application goes like this:
You pick the person to whom you want to write the note.
You write the note
They get the note and have the option of replying.
The only way for the recipient to know from whom the note comes is for the sender to reveal themselves.
Here’s the interesting part. Honesty Box color codes each note. If the sender is a male, it’s highlighted in blue, and if the sender is female – you guessed it – it’s highlighted in pink. This is based on the profile of the person who creates the note.
My story with Honesty Box begins a couple of days after this year’s LeWeb3 conference. I opened up Facebook one day, and saw I had an Honesty Box note. It read:
“You are high in positive energy, and you infected me at LeWeb3. Thank you.”
I wondered why someone would keep themselves anonymous for such a lovely sentiment, but didn’t think much more beyond that.
The next day another note arrived. This one was a bit more interesting. It read:
“I kind of want to have sex with you.”
And it was highlighted in pink.
So, of course I replied:
“Now there’s something people don’t get to hear very often. And a darn shame that is. In any case, provided the color coding identifiers in HB are accurate, at least your wish lies within the realm of viability. Of course, from there it depends on a couple of things…”
A day later, a reply:
“So what does it depend on?”
Putting aside the grammatical inaccuracy, I took the conversation one step further:
“Well, for starters, I don’t mess around with anyone who’s married or in a committed relationship. And then of course the attraction/interest needs to be mutual … the determination of which would require knowing who this is…”
Then, radio silence.
It seems that the feeling of empowerment offered by the anonymous communication lost its steam when I stepped up and engaged.
Cutting to the chase and answering the questions that I can hear you asking as you read this:
Yes, I did actually find out who the person was who wrote the note.
No, I wasn’t surprised by who it was (it was actually the person who I’d suspected from the get go.)
No we didn’t have sex (although there was a nominal bit of fooling around).
It would seem that that is the end of the story, and it is certainly where the tale of my interaction with said woman comes to a close. But the experience left me thinking about the nature of this digital anonymity and how it’s enabling people to go through life lacking one of the qualities that I treasure most – courage.
While I certainly don’t consider myself a confrontational sort, I would say that when push comes to shove I tend to step up and face situations rather than walk away.
Taking ownership – of your feelings, of your actions – is hard. And as I look at 2007 in the rear view mirror and look forward to 2008 I have come to the decision that moving forward I shall strive to be brave and shall not tolerate those who fail to do the same.


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