Not so long ago, most of us left our mark on the Internet anonymously. We hid behind usernames and online ids that might have revealed a little about who we were (I used to lurk around using the handle “OneNuttyGuy”), but not anymore. Now, the Internet is all about transparency.
How did this shift from anonymity to disclosure come about? My theory is that, as social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter grew in popularity, people grew more and more comfortable revealing their identities on the web. In fact, the rise of social networking sites made this transition almost necessary. I remember both Facebook and Twitter encouraging me to use my real name when I signed up, saying something about how it would make it easier for my friends to find me. It hasn’t been that long since I did not want my real-life friends to find me on the Internet. Now, there’s no difference between real-life friends and virtual friends. Over time, I’ve met my virtual friends in real life while, increasingly, the primary way I communicate with my real-life friends is online.
For the most part, the breakdown of the anonymity boundary is a good thing. As a result, there’s a whole lot less flaming, trolling, and hate speech online now because our names are attached to what we say and do. Accountability has increased. No longer can we hide behind an online pseudonym. However, now that we’ve been outed, there’s rising pressure to filter the lives we reveal on the web. Most everything has to come across as upbeat and positive. Nobody complains about work, personal relationships, or even disobedient pets. Like the wives in the movie The Stepford Wives, we’ve come to expect delivery of perfectly sanitized versions of ourselves online.
Take a look at your Facebook newsfeed and see what your friends are saying. Do those status updates reveal anything negative? Or is everything shiny and happy?
There have been times when I’ve wanted to blog more honestly about situations in my life, but I either give up before I start, or I end the post with upbeat resolution. Well, guess what? My life isn’t like that. I get angry. I feel disappointment. I feel resentful. I get depressed. I know fear.
Know what else? I bet you do, too.
For many years now, there’s been talk about online community. Until we’re able to be honest with each other—willing to share our flaws, fears, and all—community will always elude us. We’ve come a long way because now we know each other’s names. But until we trust one another enough to reveal our vulnerabilities, then we will continue to be shiny, happy, plastic, Stepford posters.