Anonymity vs. Ego

Mootikins talked a lot about the products of anonymity during his keynote at SXSW–about what comes out of the freedom of detaching your thoughts from the identifiable head that spawned them. He concluded that 4Chan is a site where content >creator. This resonated at the time, and during the weeks that followed I’ve considered this paradigm frequently. I’ve considered it because I am constantly bombarded with a contradiction to it.

Yes, anonymity unleashes unrestrained activity, but it is the ego that fuels the creation of the massive amount of data we see online. It is the ego that has many of us tweeting incessantly and maintaining blogs with more dedication than we do our work-out regimens.

Get rid of the negative associations–I don’t mean self-absorption. Ego is first, the acceptance of self-importance, and second, the cultivation of identity. In order to tweet, a person has to subscribe to the belief that his thoughts or interests are important enough to share (i.e. a healthy, rose-colored glasses sense of self). And after he has acknowledged this, identity takes the forefront. Identity is the upkeep; it’s what brings someone back to his blog night after night…feeding this identity so that it properly reflects the person behind the handle.

Yes, anonymity can be liberating, but we seek recognition more often than we seek catharsis.

This concept is essentially the backbone of Web 2.0, and is established through millions of examples (see: 92% of Twitter feeds–spambots dont count–and any blog containing a personal pronoun). I am less interested in the argument that ego fuels productivity than I am in looking at why it does so and what comes of it.

So why? Why do our egos propel us into a fervor of digital creation? Accountability. Reputation. Persona. Growth.

With an identity comes accountability. If we put our name on something, it better damn well be worth claiming. A blog can reveal a lot about a person. Somewhere, subconsciously, this accountability forces us to produce something we consider worth revealing.

Reputation is the flip-side: if we created something worth claiming, we’re damn well going to put our name on it.

Persona. The Internet is not physical. Information cannot be hugged or flirted with and it cannot respond to nonverbal cues. The only tools we have to maintain our digital persona are the ones we create for ourselves.

Growth. As we experience personal growth, tension compels us to reflect that online. Facebook is reflective of our identities, and thus must be maintained accordingly.

So what does the ego produce online? Hundreds of thousands of expressions of identity. More than just factual information, blogs/tweets/pictures/status updates create projections of our egos. Our online behavior, namely the clump of data we produce, is an extension of the human experience. And while anonymity also leads people to produce plenty of images, ideas, etc., things really get interesting when people are held accountable by their egos.

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