Random Aside: On the function of anonymity

As always, random occurrences spark my interest in relevant topics. This time the topic I became interested in after some online exchanges was anonymity.

You see, certain websites allow you to retain anonymity while snooping around. Most social networking sites don’t. They require an account. Of course the account can be fake but that is different from being anonymous. At least if you have a fake account I can use some degree of sniffing around to tear down your facade. Not so for the mask of anonymity. It is looking for who-knows-who in a massive masquerading crowd. You don’t even know who you are looking for, so to speak.

Assuming you want to find the anonymous person, of course. But can we find a possible need for things to remain status quo? For the mask to stay there, and that things are better this way whether we like it or not? Does our preference even matter? I will discuss anonymity mostly in the virtual/online realm even though quite a few stuff can be applied to Guy Fawkes’es running around bombing Big Bens (yes, with underground trains if you get where I’m coming from.)

  1. Anonymity is a catalyst for social exploration and change in attitude towards relationships. Whether or not this is positive remains to be seen in most cases. However, there are undoubtedly the good sides that exist. Already, the virtual world is capable of removing or altering many social impediments such as introversion (when seen in a certain light), stage fright, fear of rejection/being different and many more. Some can be seen as negative, though.
  2. Anonymity empowers people to support causes. Of course, perhaps this point should be considered redundant since there are two sides of the coin to examine. But good things come out of an uprising (as it is in Vendetta). Or of DDoSing Big Evil Corporations via MegaUpload (ref: We are Anonymous). This part of anonymity is deeply examined, by psychologists and sociologists and who knows how many other -ists. It is important, definitely. Perhaps another possible application of anonymity to goodwill is anonymous donation – most charity organisations nowadays are open to such acts by the public; surely there have to be good reasons why people opt for anonymity!
  3. Anonymity gives the courage to ordinary people that transform them to superheroes. Yes, it is similar to point 2, though it’s mostly a matter of the sheer difference in degree. ‘Courage’ to a small extent is something like a simple choice people make, and with many people deciding to make the better choice, most people end up doing so anonymously. Yet in some rare situations, anonymity is crucial to very difficult dilemmas. This ends up with most superheroes saying yes, but with the mask of anonymity. It is in fact majority of supervillains, on the contrary, who would rather their identity be known.

Superman (aka Clark Kent) seems to be a good example from what I gather from one of the movies (I think it is Superman Returns but I can’t be sure because I am not a good fan). He combines two of the above uses for anonymity, when he both performs his ‘usual’ superhero duty and takes advances towards the girl of his dreams, Lois Lane. I watched the scene multiple time: her smoking on the rooftop, then he appears. Shortly after which he brings her on a one-of-a-kind flying trip around the city. He could not do that using Clark, undoubtedly. So in a sense he covered points 1 and 3.

The movie V for Vendetta could very well have depicted all three uses of anonymity as mentioned above. The main protagonist, V, goes on a violent revenge journey to those who tortured him and appears on nationwide TV to spread his agenda (point 3), while also managing to win over the female lead Evey (point 1) – his mask hides more than his (possibly repelling) physical deformities, for the only identity he gives himself is that of the idea of revolution. This, of course, later results in the uprising against the totalitarian party Norsefire, as all citizens don the Guy Fawkes mask and march to Parliament (point 2).

The last thing one ought to think is that anonymity applies only in movies. Most things never apply ‘only in movies’ – we can relate to them because they apply to us, whether literally or ideologically or otherwise. The only thing is that they might differ in application from individuals to individuals.

I’ve been using (or rather, coming back to) ask.fm lately, and it indeed occurred to me the significance of anonymity in making this platform unique in its own rights. Perhaps I will discuss more of my thoughts on this specific instance (since I am rather familiar with it compared with other anonymous-based social platforms) at a later time.



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