The latest controversy over the outing of an anonymous blogger has UD thinking about privacy and writing.
It was by accident that UD entered the blogosphere un-anonymous. She'd planned to hide her identity, but she forgot to tell her computer-savvy niece, who helped UD set up as a blogger, and her niece put UD's real name on the blog.
In retrospect, UD wonders how accidental this was. When she tries to imagine writing an anonymous blog, she can't. Given the sort of person, the sort of writer, UD is, given her range of subjects, public and private (the recently outed blogger confines himself to the public realm of politics), it's hard to see how UD could have sustained a plausibly anonymous voice.
The anonymous political blogger - his viewpoint is liberal - wished to retain anonymity for personal and professional reasons:
Professionally, I’ve heard that pre-tenure blogging (particularly on politics) can cause problems. And before that, I was a lawyer with real clients. I also believe that the classroom should be as nonpolitical as possible – and I don’t want conservative students to feel uncomfortable before they take a single class based on my posts. ..Privately, I don’t write under my own name for family reasons. I’m from a conservative Southern family – and there are certain family members who I’d prefer not to know about this blog ... Also, I have family members who are well known in my home state who have had political jobs with Republicans, and I don’t want my posts to jeopardize anything for them ...
Anyone who wants to blog anonymously, for whatever reason, is fine by UD; but she's struck nonetheless by the comprehensive nature of this list of reservations. With so many reasons for wanting to be unknown, why write at all? The classroom reason, for instance, strikes me as silly. Should Posner and Becker have blogged anonymously? Tons of politically out-there professors blog and hold class just fine. And -- because you blog from a liberal point of view your relative's job will be compromised?
No, there's something more comprehensive here about the rather unnerving act of free, individual writing itself -- writing that doesn't take place within the formal and formulaic confines of, say, law review articles - as a sort of unacceptable exposure, a thing that by definition threatens your privacy, that gives too much away, that makes you fly a bit too much by the seat of your pants.
The decision to be not merely a professor who writes formal articles and books, but also a person who writes informal posts, perhaps on a daily basis, is not an easy decision. The book comes packaged by a press; maybe it's part of a series; maybe it's co-written... The article comprises part of a journal full of other, related articles. There's plenty of cover here, if you will, plus a slow, familiar process of publication, reading, review.
Blogging, no matter how public your subject matter, is just you out there, saying your thing in a kind of stark, extra-institutional freedom. Thousands of people - professors from all disciplines, undergraduate and graduate students, journalists, fellow bloggers, scientists, political activists, administrators, government appointees, business executives -- read UD's blog and comment on it all day, every day. That happened not because a press or a professional society or a newspaper or magazine or journal housed and published and accredited her thoughts, but because one day she and her niece decided to make a page on the internet for UD's writing. It was just UD, and it remains just UD.
More and more writing, in the age of the internet, is like this -- unsponsored, free -- and UD thinks, on balance, it's a very good thing. She agrees with Andrew Sullivan:
Alone in front of a computer, at any moment, are two people: a blogger and a reader. The proximity is palpable, the moment human—whatever authority a blogger has is derived not from the institution he works for but from the humanness he conveys. This is writing with emotion not just under but always breaking through the surface. It renders a writer and a reader not just connected but linked in a visceral, personal way. The only term that really describes this is friendship. And it is a relatively new thing to write for thousands and thousands of friends.
… Jazz and blogging are intimate, improvisational, and individual—but also inherently collective. And the audience talks over both.
The reason they talk while listening, and comment or link while reading, is that they understand that this is a kind of music that needs to be engaged rather than merely absorbed.
I'm not sure how much humanness Anonymous can convey. By which I mean to say that while there are some good reasons for some bloggers to choose anonymity, it's a pity they feel they have to. They're not beginning to use the power of this new medium.