Saturday, December 11, 2010

Secrets and Anonymity?

So, today I'm thinking about my mention of non-anonymity being the default behavior for this space. Folks here should know plainly who they are communicating with. My impulse in that direction comes partly seeing how well it works on The  The WeLL, and has since 1985. But, my thinking has gotten a bit more global and acute in light of the recent Wikileaks nonsense. I'd post their URL, but, alas, they lost another domain host, today. I'm just to lazy to seek out the mirror sites that route around that sort of annoyance, as the 'Net was designed to do.

Anyhow, this notion of anonymity, and secrets in general, as some kind of broad societal norm, is a very new invention. For most of our 200,000 years on the planet we lived first in families, then clans, then tribes, villages, and only in the past five percent of that span, in small cities, then city states, then nations. Prior to that, everybody knew everybody's business. There were few secrets. Even in the modern era, it's only been in the past couple of hundred that most folks did not live in one room hovels with all of their kin. That's still the way it is for most folks, even today. Sheer proximity to other people makes it very difficult to keep a real secret, and certainly, you can't be anonymous when the only people you interact with are all within a few hundred meters of where you sleep, eat, and procreate.

Now, we've got most governments in the Western World shocked that some kid who worked in a server room and looks like Alfred E. Neuman, was able to bust those governments' and make off with their secrets, with nothing more that a little patience, some key strokes, and a DVD labeled "Lady Gaga". There have always been spies, but Bradley Manning is no spy, anymore than a cranky gossip in a bar who overhears some other drunk's over-honest blathering is a spy for passing that on to the next drunk who will buy the first drunk another beer.

Here we are. We're on the verge of a world that may again have to get by with no big secrets. We might have to deal square with each other, on all levels of social and political organization. That is going to be hard to get used to, but as we've moved up the chain of social evolution from the family to a planet wired with a common and near instantaneous means of communication, it is surely in store. No laws will stop this, because making something against the law does not erase the likelihood that somebody is going to break that law, and you can't run a society where you lock up all the clever children. Self regulation by individuals won't stop it, because as a species, we tend to produce a goodly number of cranky gossips, revolutionaries, and some few real do-gooders. Yes… also, plain old spies.



  1. Well, maybe I have something to say, but it'll take a beer to get it out of me.

  2. More fun, and something to think on…

  3. For more on this:

    Internet: threat or menace? A typical old media take on the matter.