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severalog

Anonymity, the Web, and whether people still use the term "the Web" in conversation

J. Harry Caufield

My Wikipedia username used to be a fiction. I changed it recently: it was time to cease being anonymous in that forum.* I didn't do it because of other Wikipedia users. If anything, I've always been a bit worried about the prospect that today's editor, blindingly-furious with me for my edits to their favorite page but completely incapable of actually communicating with anyone about it, will be tomorrow's supervisor. Academics can be tricky that way. By that same token, however, I changed my Wikipedia name so people begin to see my name attached to their favorite subjects.

I spend a fair amount of time writing about microbiology, whether it's online or for some kind of eventual peer-reviewed research**. The chances still seem pretty slim that academics will ever take Wikipedia seriously (and that's fine! It's just an encyclopedia, right?). Many of these researchers are unfortunately intent on citing Wikipedia in their articles. It's still pretty neat to think that the first words someone may read after googling the name of some bacterial species may be mine. Er, partially mine.

Maybe that whole shared-content aspect is the real stumbling block. Academics love the peer review process because it lets People Who Know What They're Doing evaluate People Who Are Doing Something Similar Yet Different. The process works just fine when it's partially anonymous; most people are kind in their everyday interactions but have a license to be critical when their identity is hidden. Pseudo-anonymity doesn't provide the same kind of protective shroud. It's really more of a dissociation effect in which a distinct aspect of one's personality is brought to the forefront.

I'm certainly not an expert in the field of anonymity. It doesn't matter because this is a place where I can write about things I may know very little about. I can do that more easily because my Real Name doesn't have to be responsible for it.  


*Not this one, though! If you're reading this, you already know who I am. It's the internet equivalent of wearing a false mustache.***

**That's all online now, too. I've done much more writing under a pseudonym than under my Real Name if you don't count classwork.

***The meatspace equivalent of wearing a false mustache on the internet is probably something like "breathing" or "eating lunch" or "sinking into a creative morass."