I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the nature of identity and the right to be unseen.This is an odd unsettled time. It requires me to put myself forward in ways that I’ve avoided for years. It’s not the first time I’ve confronted that issue in art or artistic ideas. The blog exists because of the conflict between the desire for public expression and my complete lack of desire to have everything in my life publicly traceable on the Internet.
Instead of “No one on the Internet knows you are a dog” it has changed and expanded to “ with about three minutes and two clues from the text of your status update I cannot only prove you are a dog, but identify your preferred brand of dog food”. Anonymity is something that created both the wild west atmosphere of the comments section but also a “safe” place to express what you were feeling, even if that feeling was or unpopular subjects for dinnertime conversation like pain, or loss of self. The expression had an outlet without the social fallout. The traceability of our digital selves has removed that outlet and instead created almost victorian propriety or completely unfiltered public sharing. But for those of us in the middle it's created a chilling effect on expression. Be careful what you trap in amber. Instead of being afraid of being socially shunned we are now afraid of things that might affect our employment, current or future.
We are being asked to allow ourselves to be traced over the web when we move from one site to another to “allow us to receive targeted ads for things that we like” so we won’t be “bothered” with things we might not, but what that really does is increase not only our own insular world of taste and thought but prevent us from discovering other aesthetics and thoughts. Google was once a system where you knew the algorithm had nothing to do with you, you would just see the best matches and the “most popular” sites. I am disturbed when I go to Google search and see that it keeps me signed in or that if I move my browsing to “private browsing” it offers fewer images. I am not interested in having my online identities associated with my given name, if I wanted that I would have used my given name as my online identifier. I do not want my politics associated with my business concerns or my art associated with the fact that I have a religion unless I choose to express it in the art itself. I know better – this is not social networking for me, this is commodification for them. Google’s president made it clear he’s looking to become an internet based bank, but he’s wrong about his target market and what they were looking for – engineers should not design for “social” because the reality is that society requires more than a little bit of polite fiction and real world information is a click away from a name and address – it takes nothing. We are now the largest small town in the history of humanity, and perhaps all the social network exploiters might want to remember that there is a reason that many people move out of small towns as soon as they possibly can.
I don’t want to be pressured for my identity everywhere I go, it disturbs me to see my name displayed on something I have not provided my name to. I am not interested in having the computer share every article I read. I have options I am technically savvy, I can cover most of my tracks and turn on my recordable clicks to support artists whose pages generate income that way, but the shock of seeing my name on a website asking me to comment because the server stored my facebook data in a Google enabled browser – not cool, it’s a borderline violation.
AND YET. . .
A long time ago when I ran the magazine I had a strict “no fantasy names” policy. I have never had a nickname in the Science Fiction or gaming community. As a point in fact Drinne is the only nickname that has ever stuck. My position then, as now is that I participate in things like gaming, acting and SF because they are entertainments and hobbies, I was not and am not escaping who I am when I do these things, I do not need to deny or recreate myself in order to enjoy them. In my perfect world they are simply part of the whole package of who I am.
The job I held for many years required invisibility; my one nickname became a way to safely stay engaged with my scattered community while I reclaimed the part of me that produced art. Art Drinne and Working Drinne could cross the streams but not in a directly accountable way. As a matter of fact using Drinne was the way that I could stick by my “no fake names” rule. It was a real nickname given to me by a dear friend and former roommate, which was only fair since I shorten everyone’s name given half a chance. It holds the singular honor of most successful nicknames since my mother doesn’t approve. Here in the Dreamtime I am Drinne, who is still me in the Meatworld. A compromise, and a practical one. Drinne is a name that I will actually answer to when called. I am me, half hidden on the internet.
And then connection became more difficult. The practices of hiding the edged bits, and the sharing and sometimes oversharing of self with others became too much, too intense. I became too open digitally, at the same time I was shutting down in the Meatworld. I felt like I was either hurting people or being hurt. I overcompensate by explaining everything creating the textbook definition of TLDR, and then when I realized that I had held back so hard and so long that I couldn’t write, or produce art, or reach out in either world, the blessings of Facebook came to light. The communication is shorter there, the conversations are more casual. More like phone calls “ hey how are you doing? Is the dog all right? Great! Did you read that story in the Washington Post?”
In person, I have to practice small talk when I’m out amongst people who don’t know me. The space to disagree has disintegrated and it’s hard to speak about important or deep things but reasoned debate is no longer fashionable, I wonder if it’s even possible. Which means the form of conversation that used to be our bread and butter became filled with landmines and hair triggers. I have just as many as anyone else. But now I begin to wonder if this is all my own excuse. The connections between Drinne and my full name are numerous now. I carefully apply when to reveal myself, when I think it’s important, but I’m beginning to question if my reasons for doing it are based in my desire for invisibility because other people are using the threat of connection to keep me “acceptable” for commodification. By insisting on access to my online presence, an employer is insisting on access and therefore control and censorship to my life outside the office. By attacking women on the Internet for any number of reasons there is a silencing effect on speaking out in my own voice on issues that matter to me. It is not that I am afraid of expressing these issues in person, but I’m not willing to be chum for the Internet haters online.
But that’s one other way to silence me, and I’ve been doing such a good job of being silent myself. It’s building up all the unsaid things, all the difficult things I don’t want to bother my friends with. I’m hoping it will find it’s way to art, but I’m worried that what will really happen is withdrawal.
In my classes this semester I have to engage with the mass media and I find that my incredible backlog of rage comes out there. For two classes a week it’s impossible to pretend that I’m not invested in the world, that the conditions of EVERYTHING don’t affect me. It’s undeniable, but to control it, I’m going to need to figure out why I choose to limit my identifiable expression here. I will have to share this blog with the class itself- another connection between the digital me and the physical. And I’ll poke at the experience with my analytic-stick and see what it does to me in my current state of anxiety. But I’m pretty sure as a fan of Spider Robinson’s story, Melancholy Elephants, that no matter what else happens I will be advocating for the right to be forgotten.