We are all multidimensional individuals. “Who are you?” is an impossible question for anyone to answer fully, so our answers are always partial. When asked, we keep parts of our selves to ourselves.
We expose different things different people. It’s instinctive. Depending on who we’re talking to, we change our style, our language, things we talk about, how many personal details we reveal and the number and nature of misconceptions we perpetuate. White lies are key to the technique.
Everybody understands and behaves accordingly. It’s something we learn at an early age, even if only subconsciously. No one reveals their complete self to others. In fact, the world does not want to know certain things: too much information is not always a good thing.
Our instinct to hold back is a form of self-protection. It makes us cautious.
The bureaucracy of the state wants to identify us as individuals, but a passport, driver’s license or social security number captures only a small amount of information about us. It’s also not all in one place. Many have traditionally been suspicious of global registries such as national ID cards. Rightly so. Big Brother has long been seen as a threat to individual liberty. George Orwell warned us about it over a half century ago.
Government intrusion into our lives is seen as a necessary evil and is couched in assurances that there are limits. Some of our most important rights are rooted in privacy. Liberty is so important that we celebrate the idea of choosing death over erosions of our freedom.
Unfortunately, computers don’t deal well with ambiguity. They’re not that smart. They deal with ones and zeros. There’s no space between those two options. It goes against the physics of the thing. Divide by zero is the original sin of the digital world.
Built on that foundation, computers are fundamentally at odds with our nature as people. They work from the principal that everything is the sum of its parts, including us. At one point, we thought that audio CDs were perfect sound forever. That presumed a new definition of perfection. The gulf between digital reflections and our nature as individuals is, in fact, huge.
As a force in the world, computers subtly work against human patterns established over millennia, tipping the balance away from complexity and contradiction toward uniformity and containment. They don’t faithfully represent our interests. The digital agenda is something new.
As the online world expands, it brings its values in tow. More and more parts of our lives are governed by the underlying logic of the digital world.
Initially the amount of information on the net was trivial. But that’s not the case anymore. At first, it was hard to see the harm of divulging details about ourselves. The benefits were real: greater convenience, faster communications, richer and more efficient lives. Those arguments still stand.
The trade offs were less clear. As they remain today.
But information we share on the net is not like information we share with people. In real life we can show one side of ourselves to one person and a different side to someone else. In the digital world the lines are much weaker. Sharing with one is sharing with all. The net is built that way.
The net wants to capture us as a single identifiable node, because of the nature of the technology and because it's very profitable. Whatever its origins, the business of the net is now business. The source of profits for internet companies is information about people. The more the better.
There is now a company that wants to use our DNA to recommend a tailored set of products and services. They get to own the DNA data.
Big Brother is a capitalist, and has the morals to prove it.
Divulging information is also no longer voluntary. The price for the ubiquity of the net is a constant eye on our every move. Smart devices and the internet-of-things are expanding the reach of the net and its data gathering capabilities. Like the frog in the water, it’s hard to notice the temperature rising. We are slowly losing the right to be anonymous.
Informed consumers make better decisions. An informed electorate makes better choices in its elected leaders. More and more, we are learning that in the digital world the same is true. Education is key for incorporating the net in our lives without falling prey to its hazards.
When it comes to the digital world, one of the greatest lessons is the importance of privacy. Just like in real life, having control of what we share and what we keep for ourselves is fundamental. Equally, the ability to share different sides of ourselves with different people is critical to our well-being. When anything you say will be known to everyone, you tend to say less.
WriterShelf is an attempt to introduce this traditional model of privacy to a corner of the digital world. We do it through pen names. A WriterShelf user has a set of pen names which can each represent a different way of communicating with the world. Different sides of ourselves. We call our approach Natural Privacy.
A WriterShelf user can have one pen name to talk sports or cooking and another to discuss faith or share concerns about being a parent. One to talk politics and other to discuss health issues.
Each pen name can use different language, adopt a unique style and reveal chosen levels of personal details, just like we do in real life.
Pen names are nothing new, but that’s part of their attraction. The digital world poses unique challenges that are not going away. WriterShelf, pen names and Natural Privacy are a traditional approach to address a modern problem.
WriterShelf is a privacy-oriented platform that lets you write using pen names.
Everyone has a story to tell. WriterShelf gives you the freedom to be yourself.