We don't want to be anonymous, we want to be known for the first time again

 

I think sometimes about what kind of effect the internet will have on us, and in particular our children, as it becomes harder and harder to move away from our pasts.

I don't mean this in a 'running away from our past' dramatic kind of way. I mean it more in the spirit of, when we graduate from grade school, and then high school, then college and maybe a job or two, we end up sort of refining ourselves along the way.

When you go to university, it's sort of nice to meet someone who didn't know you when you had your most embarrassing high-school moment. When you take that first Director level job, it can be welcome if your new reports haven't seen you pass out at the Christmas party because you can't handle your whiskey.

Not that I would know anything about that.

The idea is that as we move through life, as we naturally transition from one period to the next, we bring some of ourselves forward with us, and we leave other parts behind. We learn and grow and mature and hopefully, who we are at 40 is a better version of who we are when we're 20. 

What happens though when it becomes hard, or impossible, to leave our more unrefined selves behind? 

There's a concept in psychology called the "Looking glass self" that says our self perception is based at least in part on how others perceive us. This notion is so powerful that people can have important breakthroughs with issues such as addiction, simply by seeing a new person in their lives perceiving the in a positive way.

If you think about it, this makes sense sort of intuitively. If you were suddenly treated like a movie star, allowed into all the greatest clubs for free, fashion designers sending you clothes for nothing and you had people hounding you for autographs - you'd probably have at least some shift in your sense of self. Likewise, if everyone started being very mean to you, telling you were worthless over and over again, this too would have an obvious impact.

But what happens when people's perception of us is based on 10 years of a Facebook timeline and 8 years of a web log? Is this simply our reputation, something that everyone in every generation before us has worked with?

Or does this always available history have an influence on how we're perceived? And if so, then doesn't this mean we'll perceive our own selves differently than we otherwise might have? And what happens when we're comparing our real world selves to other people's Instagram filters?

What is this doing to our perception of self?

There was a trend in 2014 with anonymous apps such as Secret and Whisper seeing massive user growth, and for many there's a strong belief that many people have a craving for an anonymous presence on the internet. But I don't think anonymity is the thing we want. Anonymity is the thing we want so we can get the actual thing we want - which is to be know by someone else for the first time again. 

Anonymity is just a pre-requisite for that.

The always on, always searchable, history always available nature of the internet is amazing and important and a regular thrill. But as with everything, there are trade-offs, and the internet has made it significantly more difficult to be known for the first time again.

I've become of the mind that anonymous apps aren't trying help us be evil or wicked or dangerous, or even anonymous, though surely there are some that use it for that.  Instead, I think they're trying to help us scratch the oldest of itches: to provide a way for new people to perceive us, so that we can have more inputs so as to build our own self-perception. A few of us want to be anonymous, but most of us want to be known.

If we can be know by someone for the fist time again, then even better.