Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Anonymous Cowards

It seems like it happens every day, and it happens everywhere: in the world of sports, of business, of politics, of justice. I hear the same words, that someone, "speaking on the condition of anonymity, said..." The concept of anonymity is a powerful protection in our culture. We have the secret ballot which encourages voting freedom. We have anonymous tips which lead to the apprehension of criminals.

But the explanations given for a "condition of anonymity" speak volumes about the sad state of our current culture. Maybe it's a staffer for a political leader who doesn't want to lose his job; maybe it's a legal adviser for some company and the case is currently in litigation; maybe it's a member of a sports organization, and the leaders have not yet made the announcement official. In all these cases, I'm troubled by the implications. It says, "It's wrong to say this, but if I can hide behind something and be anonymous, I will tell you all about it."

The preponderance of disloyalty astounds me -- that so many people who are working for someone, helping an organization, or participating in some movement will so easily "sell out" as long as their name is not on it.

Our nation seems to be filled with people who have no morals as long as they will get no blame. Is the only think that is keeping some people honest the fact that we know who they are? Of course, it is getting harder and harder to be anonymous in our society. Your phone has a caller ID; your computer has an IP address, and there is a good chance you were photographed several dozen times today as you walked about, minding your own business.

Maybe there is some kind of "payback" involved in getting to say something anonymous. I have been a participant in a social network for several years. I won't say its name, but it starts with "F" and ends with "book," and of course, I realized that I would not be anonymous there; after all, who wants to be anonymous on a social network?

But now, I am alarmed when I go to a news site such as CNN or USA Today, and find my status picture there, and a question: do I want to share this story on the social network? How did they know I was the same person? I used to have the same problem with Pandora until I re-set my privacy options there. I'm not ashamed of the music I listen to, but I am not vain enough to think that everyone wants to know what I'm listening to.

The bottom line is, "We don't trust each other. At all." And when I am tempted to trust someone, I hear about some other source that has spoken under conditions of anonymity, and spilled the beans.

What cowardice. If you can't say it in the light, why can you shout it in the dark? It's seen another way in the comment sections of forums and other sites. People say horrible, insulting things that I doubt they would say if they had to look anyone in the face. In an ever-growing i-culture, it's only going to get worse, as we interact in every way, buying and selling, voting and recommending, applying for jobs and learning in college courses. The applied anonymity of the internet allows us to be the kind of jerks that were tarred and feathered in the last century.

No one talked to a neighbor like people talk to each other through an electronic mask. Anonymity is destroying what little decency we have left. I have realized the importance of never speaking unless everyone knows who I am and what I look like, and never speaking on a condition of anonymity. Why? Because I don't like those kind of people, and don't want to be under the same roof with one -- even if it's me.

1 comment:

Carolyn Campagna said...

Hi Bruce. I liked your Anonymous Cowards piece. Very thought provoking and I agree with you. I believe that our society is driven by being so politically correct, that everyone is afraid to speak the truth, because if you do, your opinion is not respected but trashed. Whatever happened to being mature and listening and engaging in thoughtful debate.