When Anonymity stops being a shield and becomes a wall

I have been playing around online since I was 10 years old way back in good ol 1991 (yes dating myself) when my dad got Prodigy and set me up to email the daughter of a friend of his and play Where in the world is Carmen San Diego on an online server.

God things change. And that’s kind of what this is about. Growing up through my teen years the internet was always a thing that was there in my house. My dad was a software engineer and he insisted that, “No matter what job you do when you grow up computers will be involved so you are going to learn to use them” Not only was typing class mandatory but my dad even made me practice at home.

Needless to say I got very comfortable with a computer and for lonely gawky kid who didn’t fit in with the other more mainstream kids the internet offered me a chance to discover other parts of the world. So background set at 15 I took the leap from emailing a girl I quasi-knew to chatting with complete strangers of all ages at all hours of day or night.

There was a hard set rule. Pick a Handle, what we called a screen name back then, dude dude dude you’re nobody without a handle you had to have a handle (bonus points for reference). This was your Identity online. No one was to know who you were, where you lived, how old you were or anything.

Everything was to stay cloaked. It was even kind of a two way street I realized not only was no one online to know about you. No one offline should know either. Because you were free. Online you could say anything, be anyone. It made you free to explore the world. I was a scared lonely 15 year old kid but no one could get a hand on me I was safe.

I could pretend I was 18. I could ask questions I had no friends to ask. Learn things no teacher would teach me. I could find out that I wasn’t alone that after I hit 18 in the real world there was a whole world out there of Ghost People. Some who were still slipping through the cracks of society. Some may have dwelled in parents basements but more likely they were like my first boss. Someone who didn’t have much but had their own place and just wanted to connect to other people while not having the money to go out.

As I spent more time online I graduated high school and spent some time in college where I finally made some real world friends and my online presence lessened. I had reached that promised land of adulthood the bullies went away and forgot I existed. People stepped up who thought I was cool and funny. Life continued and the Earth turned.

Then years later a friend asks, “Hey why didn’t you show up to my party?” “What party?” “The party I invited everyone to on Facebook didn’t you see it?” “Face..Book?” (To be fair it hadn’t been around long and Myspace was the only one I had really heard of or been on)

So realizing my friends had made the leap from actually inviting people to just trusting a website to do it for them. I had no choice I joined up, “but hey” the voice of nostalgia screamed in my head “I haven’t had a handle in awhile it will be fun to have a new one”

Then I arrive at the site and informed that fake names will not be allowed and that only legal names are to be used. It was like shattering glass. “Real Names on the Internet surely you jest” “I do not and don’t call me Shirely” (that one’s kind of a gimme) Well I have been toying with the idea of trying to get published under a pen name and it sounds real enough so I slap it on there and for years it works.

Then one day I read a reputable article from a business publication and it informs me that since the Internet has become so ingrained in everyday life that not only do employers Google your name to check for a social media presence but if they don’t find one no matter how many real world friends and family you have you will be deemed a lone crazy whose going to shoot up the company picnic.

So pondering a lack of job offers, imagining a bunch of questioning looks and thinking “Wait,what?” I trudge to Facebook and switch it for the first time ever anywhere online that my handle is now my legal name. The one I was born under the one I work under.

As I do glancing over the occasionally, racist, sexist, other ists postings that friends and family throw up on my wall I ponder just when the hell the world decided that a man with family and friends and a rich real world life is crazier than the lonely 15 year old desperately reaching out online for anyone to listen to him if he won’t give out his real name?

I know there are still places that accept a screen name. I know there are places you can pretend to be someone else. But now everyone puts all of their information out on the internet literally the most public forum in the world and then screams about their right to privacy being violated when people actually look at what they write. They eagerly turn to the internet to store all of their most precious secrets thinking of the internet as if it were Fort Knox instead when it’s more like the quiet coffee shop down the street.

So here I am internet out and proud. I value my privacy more than most of you but no longer care about my anonymity. Jack Faire as you may have figured out is my screenname my handle. The one I have used on many sites in many places hiding in plain sight.

The ironic thing was when I started writing I wondered “How anonymous am I really what’s my online presence?” So I googled my name. Not my screenname not old handles but my actual legal given to me at birth name. I googled Derek Wheeler.

‘Here it comes’ I thought waiting for the deluge of information that people panicking about a total lack of anonymity, I am sorry you call it privacy don’t you….cute, are expecting there to be.

And I am utterly shocked. It’s not that I did a wonderful job hiding myself. It’s not that no one’s ever figured out that my address can be looked up in phone books. No the cosmic joke that is on me that means that even now having revealed myself to the world it turns out that I am not real.

Nope I am fictional I am made up. Or at least that is what the internet insists on telling me. Turns out that the first result for my name is a character from a show that last saw the character when I was 23 years old. First search result for my pen name of Jack Faire is me. Well damn.

I am not crazy world. I’m here I’m not crazy.


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