Anonymity, thing of the past?

Jenn notes with sadness the unmasking of Banksky, and how she is both saddened and mildly implicated in the process. Authority and identity are largely left understated in someone like Max Weber’s societal theories on the trajectory towards rationalization, and picked up instead in Foucault’s notions of governmentality.

I wonder what it means for us to no longer (if we ever?) find anonymity satisfactory. Right now, at least, we live in a society where celebrity and markets and a creeping surveillance state have crowded out something like anonymity/symbolic identity? Banksky, Digby, Fake Steve Jobs, US torture and blanket domestic spying; the impulse to find out who just swamps the impulse towards being left alone.

Maybe these are concurrent trends, the surveillance and the paparazzi, and they are just coincidentally conjoined in the current era of constant post-9/11 fearmongering and post-Michael Jackson celebrity gawking. Foucault would say no, that man is a confessing animal, and we demand confession more and more – there is an excellent scene in the sparse-but-powerful book Disgrace, where an accused professor accepts blame but does so while refusing to explain or ‘confess’ appropriately, and is ripped for it. That’s sometimes how I feel nowadays about a variety of issues. Explain yourself, show yourself, unmask yourself.

There is a long history of muckraking for these purposes, journalism to expose the underbelly of corruption in government and in business – Frank Norris’ The Pit, Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, Jacob Riis’ How the Other Half Lives. But they don’t seem to compare to the contemporary infrastructure designed to find out more, to learn the intimate details, to expose.

I recall the early days of MUDDs, where pseudonymity was an adequate substitute for identity; no one ever really asked you who you ‘really’ were, since who you presented yourself to be was, with repeated interactions, enough to establish a reputation and identity. Then ip tracking, web analytics, and more importantly the cultural reassertion of the internet-as-fancy-telephone. After this, you could and did link users to their geographic location, their social class status (via data imputed from zip code, for example), and from there their consumer and political preferences.

I don’t know, maybe it’s just a bit of a depressed reaction from the Banksky news, and the feeling I get that I personally don’t want to know more paired with a sense of inevitability that the anonymous one would inevitably be found out.

I mean, there is someone still looking for D.B. Cooper. I hope they never find him – but they probably will…

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