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Saturday, May 18, 2013

Pseudonyms and the Age of Miscommunication

Yesterday we were talking about Minecraft and usernames. Margaret, who has not been paying close attention to the game, asked William what his user name was to which he explained it to be "Gerald underscore Saul". He says that every other user seems to have a pseudonym, none of them use their "real" names. He then asked me why I set it up that way (it is my account he is using, but I bought it for him)?  I felt a bit stumped. No one has asked me why I DON'T use internet pseudonyms  In the past, reality and truth were the default, but that appears to have reversed. Margaret and I got thinking about the history of names. There are numerous cultural situations in which a person would change their name, perhaps when reaching maturity, perhaps when marrying, perhaps when changing social rank, but these would generally be names given to the person by the family or community. Choosing your own name was always less common. In some cases it was done to deceptively move up in society. More often it was done by authors or artists who either want to remain anonymous due to the controversial content of their work or to disguise their gender or to separate themselves from the possible social harm that someone might face if they were a lowly writer. The twentieth century saw a greater number of self proclaimed name changes for different reasons, some artistic, some political, some probably trivial, such as Man Ray, Malcolm X, Madonna, Mohammad Ali, etc.
And then the internet....
The need for unique names within the global village led to a natural drive for nicknames and pseudonyms  It became too easy to confuse JohnSmith976 with JohnSmith967. Additionally, we are constantly reminded that the web is not a "global village" but a "global metropolis-with-criminals-and-red-light-districts-at-every-turn". Children are told not to give any personal information to anyone. Truth is dangerous, even foolish. But unlike Woody Allen, Mark Twain, or Bono, these names are chosen with no regard for creating a permanent alternative identity but are fluid and more-often-than-not, meaningless. They add to a mass of strangers interacting with other strangers, never making real connections. In our glorious age of communication, they choose to live in an age of miscommunication. 

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