Rethinking “Privacy”

RECENTLY, ONE OF MY FAVORITE blogs switched their commenting software from one which featured anonymous “handles” to one which can also link readers under their real names. It has caused me to rethink what I thought I took for granted about privacy — and explain why I now post solely under my real name.

In 1996, I was irate with a local politician who had left a “How’m I Doing?” flyer on our door. I told her exactly how I thought she was doing, and was about to toss it in the mail, when Ann pointed out that I hadn’t signed my name to it.

“What’s the difference?” I asked.

“If you don’t sign your name to it, your opinion isn’t worth much,” she said.

Wow. I had never considered that. “You’re right,” I said, and signed my name.

I had long been a strict proponent of privacy (i.e., “leave me aloneism”); e.g., cash only, no bank account or credit cards, etc. And, true, since that time I have used a variety of situational names (in addition to my given Hebrew one, Nachum ben Yitzhak Halevi) — Will Thrustwell, Neal Ross, BT Elder — but never with an intent to deceive, only to entertain. (In other words, everyone knew it was me.) That long-ago conversation still echoes to the present, and in the meanwhile I’ve worked as a reporter and seen better how the world works. And have said a lot of things about it. Under my own name.

Instead of restricting “what’s out there” about me, I stand behind it — own it — let it define me.

I guess I’ve changed. I don’t dismiss anonymity, but I also no longer feel like such an ousider to the system. (I also take more to heart Robert Anton Wilson’s opinion about a writer’s opinion.) Especially now that I’m blogging, I feel more like one of the system’s more interesting (I hope) points of reference — visualize a sort of electronic innkeeper basking in the flickering porchlight of little truths.

But mostly, I feel like me.

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