Maybe it comes from being born and raised in Calcutta, where anonymity is rare and privacy rarer still. During my youth I often felt that Cal was the world’s biggest village. Lots of overlapping gossip circles and nosy neighbours and all that. But it was all in-your-face, so it didn’t feel like how it feels in the West.
Before you can have the curtain-twitching gossiping narrow-minded neighbour, you need to have curtains.
Things that prevent light from coming in, that create places of darkness. Things that people hide behind in order to disguise or conceal their snooping. Things that people draw closed in order to prevent others from seeing what they are doing.
I’ve heard many people make strong cases for anonymity, often in the context of democracy and dissent. [Maybe I need to revisit Cass Sunstein, I will do so this weekend]. We have to be careful about this, because we can hold up the development and enrichment of many things while we argue about anonymity.
There’s a lot to be said for onymity. When we look at the right to vote, we need to bear in mind that the voter is not anonymous. Even the dead of Cook County had names.Â It is the vote that is anonymous, not the voter.
Onymity could help us solve many problems, from chat room predators to spam originators and everything in between. As we get better at onymity we may get better at preventing identity theft and all its consequences.
Every time we build systems to enshrine anonymity we pay a price. Sometimes it is worth stepping back and checking that the price is worth paying.