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> Anonymity

Anonymity

It's been my custom here in these essays to present myself as anonymous … a person without place or time or characteristics. (Why even a person? I might as well be an AI.) What's important isn't me, it's the ideas; I'm just the messenger, or perhaps the carrier, or vector.

That's the theory, anyway. In practice, I've failed to live up to the ideal in several ways.

  • You can tell things about me from what I write … for example, that I live in a place where there are cars, and that I'm inordinately fond of numbers. There's not much I can do about that, though. If I wrote about everything, I'd be Wikipedia.
  • Early on, in December 2000, I moved the whole urticator.net project downward so that I could set up a home page for myself. That's pretty much the opposite of anonymity!
  • The stories I've written down often include exactly the kind of historical and biographical information that I've claimed I want to avoid. So, returning again to the classification of knowledge, the essay Well-Known Domains was about failures in one direction, and this essay is about failures in another.

It's nice to have all that here in one place, but I've said most of it before. There is one new aspect I'd like to discuss, however. In the classification, I was talking about historical and biographical information not just about me but also about my friends and family. So, if I really want to avoid it, I need to keep my friends and family anonymous too. And, mostly I do.

  • If I'm talking about a friend of mine, I'll usually just say “a friend”.
  • If I'm talking about my parents, I'll go ahead and say “my mom” and “my dad” … anything else would be absurd and distracting. “A parent”? “A relative”? “Someone”? Try those out in The Story of the Train Stamps, for example.
  • The same goes for my sisters, although since I have two there's still a bit of anonymity in the phrase “my sister”.
  • The same goes for my girlfriend, too. Ironically, the one (other) time that I wanted to mention her, we'd broken up, so I had to call her “a very good friend” instead. (That was in The Fire.)
  • I don't think I've ever wanted to refer to any other relatives, but I imagine the same would go for them, too, unless they were distant enough that I'd want to say “a relative” rather than spell out the connection.

Actually, even when I say something like “my mom” that names a specific person, it's still kind of anonymous, because it doesn't tell you anything about her beyond the fact that she has that relationship to me. In other words, it doesn't tell you her absolute position in person-space (whatever that is), only her position relative to me. If you know who I am, you know who she is, but if you don't, you don't.

Grammar news flash: I just figured out that “my” is a definite article, like “the”. I'll say “a friend” or “a friend of mine” the first time I refer to someone, but then “my friend” after that. So, I guess technically I ought to say “one of my sisters” instead of “my sister”.

Now, to get back to the point, I have mixed feelings about this policy of keeping friends and family anonymous. On the one hand, it fits what I'm trying to do with the site. It also fits normal conversational practice as I understand it. If I'm talking to someone I don't know very well, and want to refer to one of my friends, of course I don't refer to ver by name, because the other person probably wouldn't even know who I was talking about.

On the other hand, if I want to refer to one of my friends in an essay, it's often because ve's contributed to it in some way. So, if I don't use vis name, it feels like I'm not giving credit where credit is due. (Credit is also due to many folks I don't even refer to, for discussing things with me and/or listening patiently while I thrash around trying to put some new concept into words.)

And, that's where things stand. I wish I could resolve the tension between the two sides for you, but in fact I can't even resolve it for myself. The “credit where credit is due” meme is a strong contender, but so far it hasn't been able to budge the status quo.

 

  See Also

  Notes on the History Block

@ June (2008)
  February (2012)