Much is touted about the Public Internet and virtual environments constituting mediums of anonymity – that the actions of users are essentially anonymous and free of consequence. That’s actually pretty far from the truth. There’s anonymity and there’s privacy, and these are two rather different qualities, and are available in quite a different mix to what common knowledge would have you believe.
Anonymity is, the dictionary tells us, ‘the quality or state of being unknown or unacknowledged’. In essence anonymity is the lack of connection to any contiguous form of identity. If, online in some venue, you speak with guest613 a number of times and guest613 could be a different person each time, then they can be said to be anonymous. Short of them self-identifying or your recognising their wrist (manner of speaking, word-choice, spelling and so on) they’re functionally anonymous. Each time you encounter that handle, you cannot assign experiences to it that would constitute an identity.
Anonymity is comparatively uncommon on the Public Internet, compared with privacy.
Privacy is the more common case in both virtual and atomic environments. The use of a consistent login, account or handle provides a contiguous identity by which you are recognized, judged and assessed. On the Internet, everyone knows you’re a dog.
In atomic environments, the people you see day-to-day or week-to-week may not know your name, but they come to recognise you, sales staff tend to remember you (and how you behaved). You have a contiguous identity to these people, even if they don’t know your name, your job, your friends or where you live.
Turn up one day at your favorite cafe without your husband, but on the arm of some obviously affectionate fellow, and you’ll raise a few metaphorical eyebrows. Come back the following day with your husband as usual, and you’ll likely raise some actual eyebrows, even though they may not know anything about you, or your circumstances – you have a contiguous identity, and your actions and speech have consequences.
This is the most common case in virtual environments. You choose what details to reveal, and the rest remains unknown. However everyone essentially knows who you are.
Who you are is not what you are. Who you are is what is left after your job, your skin colour, your circumstances and appearance, and your gender and location are all stripped away. In its purest form, who you are is that part which makes choices and interactions, stripped of the conventional trappings that constrain them (though it is not possible to be entirely separated from them). You may be a kind and generous person, a misanthrope, or a callous jerk.
That identity is exposed to everyone you meet, and has consequences. People remember you, and they remember your name. They associate you with your words and actions over time, just as does the sales clerk at your favorite store.
You may not know that Sting is Gordon Sumner, or that David Tennant is actually David MacDonald, but not knowing these cannot be said to grant them any measure of anonymity. Likewise, you may not know the names behind Lowell Cremorne or Tateru Nino (or indeed whether these might even be our own legal names), but that does not detract from or diminish our contiguous identities.
rosa rosa rosa est est (A rose is a rose is a rose)