On the Topic of My Name

In the course of gently publicizing the Vegas Group project across recent weeks, I have been reminded that most people assume Reason to be a pseudonym. It isn't - Reason is actually my name. The way this works in the offline world, face to face, is much as follows:

Rude Person: Your name is Reason? Really? Really?

Me: Yes.

Rude Person: Oh.

And there it stops.

In the online world, sad to say, it is never that simple. To a certain extent I blame the growth of social network culture for the present level of confusion regarding privacy, anonymity, and abuse of anonymity - people have a way of conflating these three into one, when they are in fact quite separate items. Within the world of Facebook and the like, surrounded by the illusion of transparent vision into every trivial detail of the lives of others, people are forgetting both the simple courteous act of respecting privacy and the important differences between privacy and anonymity.

It should be remembered that the view of the lives of others provided by social networks is a fake: you are looking at a front, a presented facade. The only difference between that and email conversations - or exchanges of written letters - lies in the level of detail and immediacy. But I think that the ersatz appearance of lives lived like an open book cultivates a corrosive sense of entitlement quite unlike the cultural changes brought on by earlier forms of mass communication: that one is entitled to know a great deal about any other person, irrespective of their wishes on the subject. This is grossly impolite and disrespectful when carried from thought into action. Courtesy and privacy are intimately linked, and respect for a person must include a respect for their boundaries of privacy.

As it happens, I am a very private individual, something of a dying breed these days. I do not use social networks, as I gain little value from them. It isn't within my comfort zone for you to know where I work, what I look like, where I live, how I like my toast cooked, who I hang out with, who I connect with, and the thousand other trivialities that make up the evolving social network culture of zealous and carefully gardened oversharing. More and more often these days, I am finding that the response to my desired level of privacy is outright hostility - that a person feels entitled to know these things about me, and that this knowledge is in some way required for even the most trivial of communications.

This would no doubt seem ridiculous to our ancestors of past centuries, who communicated their thoughts to the distant reaches of the world in long-form essays. A person was judged from afar by their words, and the name attached to those words was the most trivial of identifiers. If you cannot produce a measured response to the messages contained in the hundreds of thousands of words that comprise Fight Aging!, then how is knowing what I look like going to help you? It won't, of course, and neither will knowing how I like my toast cooked.

In short, I am private, not anonymous - and that fact shouldn't matter one way or another. Judge by words and actions, not by characteristics that have little relationship to either. For the vocal few who apparently care deeply about such things, I'll point out that you would have said nothing and felt fine if the tagline on this blog and my emails said "John Smith" or some other form of bland, generic name. Doesn't that indicate that your approach to considering anonymity is broken in some fundamental way?

Comments

Eloquently stated. There is no way to know for sure that a person is using their correct name, their correct picture or even their correct gender online. Like actors, people can portray themselves in various ways on the internet, and there's no way to know for sure how accurate it is to that person. There are certain things that simply have to be taken at face value.

Questioning every statement made by every person online can foster madness. Is that any way to live? It certainly is not healthy. We should judge ourselves and our own honesty and the way we live our lives before we delve into the minutia of random people online. Truly- does it really matter if the average person who posts a comment is telling the truth about how they like their toast? If they are lying, who really suffers from it? Get over it and move on. Your blood pressure will thank you.

Posted by: Alison at May 6th, 2011 8:04 PM

Hey, Reason! I'm what one would (in online lingo) classify as a lurker. I visit this site every day, and at times more than once a day. I find the subject of anti-aging medicine, SENS, and the politics of the medical establishment to be fascinating, and would like to contribute in accelerating the coming biotechnological revolution. I am, however, skeptical on AI and heavily leaning towards disbelief on the claims of singularitarians and my interests lie more towards radical life extension.

I could expound on the intrincacies of my worldview, or on the reasons for my interest in living many, many youthful years, but I believe everyone here would be better served by my being succint: a short time ago, I broke the "late-twenties" barrier; young enough to be young, old enough to know that in the coming years, despite my best efforts, I will face a decline in all my bodily functions. I, for one, will not resign to losing my capacity for thought and action, to the tragedy of progressive cognitive and motor failure.

Aging is not a boon, and while an individual might not decline a sharply into perhaps their early 60's if genetics and lifestyle choices permit, infirmity and frailness always win. I admire older individuals who remain active and vital, who have a craving for adventure and a thirst for life, but I do not delude myself into thinking that aging does not end badly for all of us. If it can be, and I believe it can be, stopped then it should be done. Let everyone decide how they may live afterwards (or if they will not).

As for the matter of your post, which I have completely avoided, I will not delve into matters of privacy, anonimity, abuse or the faux over-exposure of social networks. I will simply conclude by stating what was going to be the only content of this posting: you, sir, have a truly awesome name.

Cheers.

Posted by: Emiliano at May 7th, 2011 6:45 AM

Ha, I've always thought Reason was a pseudonym. As with Emilio, this is also my favorite singularity-related blog, and second much of what he said. I read and try to understand what I can (thank you for the scientific rigorousness in not simplifying anything) as I work with computers, not science research -- this is more of an interest than my work.
I definitely respect your take on social networking and privacy. I am curious though, and I respect if you wish not to answer this, but I've wondered if your "work" in general at all overlaps with your what you've called "observer" research and blogging. I guess what I mean is, does any of the work you might get formally paid to do allow you to study these matters, or are you actually capable of working in an unrelated field and maintaining this blog simultaneously (which seems like it would be a challenge)?

Posted by: Pat at May 9th, 2011 8:35 AM

@Pat: as I have mentioned here and there in the past, I'm an observer of the field only - it's not my day job to work in biotech or the life sciences.

Posted by: Reason at May 9th, 2011 8:43 AM

Thank you for the name clarification. I understand. I will still be coming to
your site regularly and you are still one of my heroes. Jim E. Mel

Posted by: Jim E. Mel at August 13th, 2013 3:27 PM

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