On Anonymity

Friday, 22 January 1999

I have been asked many times for my name, most often by people who are confused to find it nowhere on my site.

I have explained this many times in emails, and it's well past time I did so for everyone's benefit.

When I took my first baby-steps into cyberspace around 1991, I soon came to share the generally benign view of anonymity held by most people in what was then something of a sub-culture.

I bore witness in those days to a couple of nasty incidents wherein online conflicts became brutally personal in the "real" world, and I heard of many others. It's worthy of note that complete anonymity of both parties in such cases might well have kept the damage largely within the universe of electrons and microchips, to the benefit of all.

On the other hand, some hide behind their anonymity in cowardly fashion, and use it as a shield against consequences they should rightly suffer. People should be accountable for their actions, and it can't be denied that our mere technologic signals, perhaps seemingly ethereal and rather divorced from reality, can nonetheless cause very tangible harm.

I've given the matter of anonymity a lot of thought, and as I believe many good people have done, I consider it solved thusly: it is more a good thing than bad. And, while it is more a privilege than a right, it is both. Like any privilege, it brings with it responsibility. Like any right, one is presumed to merit its benefits and protections initially, but it is neither inviolable nor absolute; especially when it has been abused.

Ever since long ago, then, I have kept a general policy that I do not intentionally publish personal information on the public Net. I believe it wise and acceptable; and I hope to help contribute to a general, cultural view that holds responsible use of anonymity as no breach of manners, nor of credibility or integrity.

Yet I have no wish to hide, nor to seem (or be) a paranoid protector of my identity. I want to be accountable for my actions, and I hold the cowardice and brutality I have often seen crouching behind the bastion of anonymity in deepest contempt. Such acts sully us all, and they compel decent people to bring their seige engines to bear upon ramparts that should provide a haven for the just, not a barricade against justice.

Therefore I make no secret of peripheral facts about myself, such as my general location and my profession. Quite aside from the fact I readily share my name and address, and any number of personal details with anyone who actually needs to know, I can be easily found by anyone who cares to take a little trouble. I live in a small community, where I am known personally to many and by repute to a great many more. One needs only drive into town and ask a few people about "that computer guy" and before long he'd probably have some kind soul giving directions to my house.

All philosophizing aside, I like being known by a descriptive name. "PCHelp" is what I do, and in a very true sense it is who I am. These days, I give freely of something like 20 hours every week to the hundreds, now reaching into the thousands, of people who have sought my assistance. Such work means far more to me than wealth or wardrobe. It comes naturally to me, and I'm really very proud of it.

Also, whatever other aspects there may be to myself or my life, it is fitting that my PCHelp persona should stand on its own, separate and on its own merits. An alter-ego, as it were, with a life and a meaning purely its own.

I like a world where there's a sense of community, where people extend a hand where it's needed as a routine act without thought of personal gain. I know that world only exists if we, each individually, create it. One of my chosen conduits for that creativity is PCHelp.