The Continuing Relevance of Online Anonymity.

I rediscovered Livejournal somewhere in my late night web browsing the other evening. Going down that rabbithole, one LJ in particular stood out. Chock full of references to surrealist literature and arcane medical devices, illustrated with photographs of models from the 60s and 70s in retro-futurists fashions, it’s the kind of thing that only a really brilliant nineteen year old girl can put together.

I bet the pictures and the references mean something more to her than the rest of us reading could discern. I do this as well, other bloggers do too: point out a book in particular that might detail a conflict in my own life I’m experiencing, not only because I’d never mention it directly on this space, but so that looking back on the archives, I’ll remember what I was really thinking about that day.

Her LJ felt uncannily like the Livejournals I read ten years ago, when I was the writer’s age. But the time stamps were all within the past two years, vague on details about the transition from high school to college. All under a screen name.

Here’s a lovely example of the atemporality of the web. Consider the timelessness of Livejournal. Not much has changed. Without looking at the time stamp of some posts on that site, there’s no way to discern what year, what decade this is. So long as precocious teenagers discover things like Valerie and Her Week of Wonders and the Velvet Underground, there will be blogs like this.

Livejournal’s design has changed a little, but never looked all that bad. It’s got a better interface than Facebook and plenty of other social networks. It might not be the cutting edge of blogging software, but it still works and people use it. If there are better options, it doesn’t matter because the community might not be there. Also, anonymity could be harder to control elsewhere.

Gadgets change year after year, but the context and our use of them shifts much more slowly. A lot of communities never change at all, look at, for example, Orkut’s resilience in Brazil.

There’s a reason the girl who wrote this Livejournal wishes to remain anonymous. It’s the same reason I blogged anonymously as a teenager, and still sometimes post in forums under fake names. Nineteen is a tender age, one is in constant discovery mode. Trying on different faces, making friends that might not feel right, figuring out the core of one’s identity. I took comfort in anonymity. Anyone who does not see the value in these communities misses out on a pretty essential experience.

The Tomorrow Museum
Sept 10, 2010