Reverence for Anonymity

September 29, 2009 | Leave a Comment

Category: Society, Web

Once we finally began to move away from kings and queens that were gods and goddesses, monarchs or emperors that were also deities, cults of individuality began to flourish.  It is no mistake that a cult of individuality thrives where there is hierarchy.  To deify an individual there has to be a social climb.

The U.S. exhibits one extreme form of an individuality cult; some would say it is a particularly virulent form.  We have worshiped an ability of individuals to transcend circumstance and achieve reverence and respect.  There have been positive and negative aspects of this social frame.  We have not had a thriving model of the commons or a belief that it is good for all if each citizen begins adulthood warm, fed, healthy and educated.  It has been relatively easy for status-quo Americans to choose selfishness while we’ve experienced the rich gains that come from offering attention and adulation to the individual.  It definitely makes for great stories.

It is not obvious yet, but the American cult of individuality is in decline.

Seamless communication destroys barriers.  Barriers enhance focus on those that control information or resources.  A cult of individuality extolling the successes of individuals requires stratification or the separation of coveted information or resources from the masses that seek a way to stand out from the crowd.

Polarities make it easier to understand the various ambivalences having to do with being alive.  One such polarity balances seamless communication with hoarded information, relaxation with struggle, creativity with control, anonymity with individuality.  It is not a question of one being better than the other.  Both are true, balances shift and a person’s experience is characterized by his or her position on this spectrum.

We are in the center of one such shift.

With the decline in individuality there is a boost in anonymity.  As information barriers drop and the amateur becomes respected by a larger and larger social network, it becomes possible to experience respect without having to pay the price of a license or obtaining certification that a series of tests have been taken and passed.  A person can experience elevation without being the person that controls information or resources.  With free information, an amateur can exercise expertise without having to pay the price of certification.

This is not unlike a person spending enormous amounts of time to learn to play a musical instrument, finding other musicians seeking to put together a symphony and creating a complete symphonic ensemble, performing online.  However, what is being performed are exclusively arcane 17th-century pieces.  The web offers no barriers to amateurs with unique interests; their work is spread across the world, exhibiting astonishing talent to an approving audience.  The rewards are multifaceted.  Accolades include community respect.

Creators of open-source applications that have a profound effect upon communications do so anonymously, but at the same time, they are members of a community that offers them respect.  Anonymity is relative.  Compared to the adulation offered individuals achieving fame, this new online, horizontal, social-media-driven, amateur-oriented, transparent, barrier-destroying model does not offer much in the way of humans standing on pinnacles of success.  What is achieved instead is an experience of feeling part of a vast community, important to many.  They are respected for contributions and encouraged to sacrifice apogee notoriety to achieve an experience of cooperation in the creation of community.

A feature of anonymity in a horizontal social model is that, as a member of a community, one is at the center, not the top.  With seamless communications in a barrierless world, the size of a community can be massive and/or spread over a great geographic distance.  In either case, the experience that the individual achieves is one of integration into a whole.

Free high-speed communication of quality information is destroying the post-monarch cult of individuality.  What is taking its place is a reverence for anonymity.  We are entering humbling times.  Consider what good things may result.


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