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Digital Legacies: Anonymity

Julius Wiedemann investigates the architecture of ‘anonymity’ in the online space today, deeming it as a quest worth reflecting on and one of the greatest luxuries of our time.

by Julius WiedemannPublished on : Mar 23, 2021

Anonymity is definitely one of the luxuries in the 21st century. Imagine you are in a little bungalow on the top of a beautiful mountain surrounded by a forest, with the next village 50 kms away and with a waterfall just 15 minutes away from your bedroom. A place not to be disturbed. You feel you are isolated, but if you connect your mobile phone, you are definitely not alone, or lonely anymore. There are many luxuries in the 21st century that were unthinkable just a couple of decades ago. The idea that one doesn’t want to be recognised or monitored is definitely one of them. In a society where we privileged people like and post about our incredible online life, and in that I include myself, the temptation to keep the ball rolling in the direction of fame (or pseudo-fame) is very high.

No matter where we are in the world, because of our devices we are not lonely anymore | Digital Legacies | Julius Wiedemann | STIRworld
No matter where we are in the world, because of our devices we are not lonely anymore Image: Courtesy of Julius Wiedemann

Living off-grid now is not only a huge challenge, but also nearly impossible. For a long time, we wanted to be seen. Now most of us are trying to avoid that in most places and are reducing visibility at platforms where it’s not relevant. It is becoming increasingly hard to manage all platforms at the same time as well. If you are a celebrity and have to keep up with Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, Twitter, Clubhouse, LinkedIn, and others, you are probably not doing it yourself anymore. All these platforms combined take up a lot of our time, especially if you want to post relevant content that creates organic growth. But even if you are not a celebrity you are starting to calculate how much time you spend having to manage all that, even if you are using an administrator, because each platform has its own particularities and demands tailor-made content to stay relevant in the algorithm.

In theory we could speculate a new concept of some sort of anonymity that is more related with ignoring the devices, in that you reserve the right and have the peace of mind to respond to the technological apparatus around only if you want. Most of us have to deal with dozens of emails and WhatsApp messages every day to keep the work afloat. It is not an “if” anymore. When work demands immediate response, it changes the way we organise our time. There is the classic case when the worker is granted the privilege of not having to register the working hours at your office anymore. From that moment onwards the worker knows that a lot more work will be demanded after hours and taking work back home might become the norm. And these days the norm of office working hours has already been violated from the moment we adopted smartphones with computer-capability.

Some professionals are able to stay connected indefinitely and jump from task to task on the same device. My wife does just that. She manages five restaurants and a staff of over 200 people using only WhatsApp. For people who only need to take decisions and have an infrastructure supplying information and knowledge, this is quite common. However, there are activities that demand a lot of concentration and one-only task with longer timeframes to be executed well. But the real question is how to get out of it completely. The point is very simple, that when you are connected you are someone who is being demanded to execute something. And in order to deliver something you will have to be identifiable.

Wiedemann believes that anonymity is a quest worth reflecting on in the digital space | Digital Legacies | Julius Wiedemann | STIRworld
Wiedemann believes that anonymity is a quest worth reflecting on in the digital space Image: Courtesy of Julius Wiedemann

My thesis is that anonymity has become one of our greatest aspirational ideas to work towards to. It is very common in Germany for people to have fake profiles online so that they can navigate the web as pseudo-anonymous citizens. If we are talking exclusively about not being identified, the game is for fewer people. And the territory is not healthy. When you talk about anonymity online, it can very quickly sound dodgy, because many websites that post racist, homophobic, ultra-nationalistic content online are commonly used by people who do not want to be identified, and therefore turn to places where there is no such compliance or accountability. We can never forget that there are two sides of the same coin. But what I mean with anonymity here is the fact that we can remain unidentified so that our information is not used without our knowledge. A quest worth a reflection every time we go online.  

Read more from the series Digital Legacies where our columnist Julius Wiedemann investigates the many aspects of digital life.

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