Saturday, April 30, 2005

The Facade of Anonymity

The parish in which I serve as interim has called a new Rector. He was in town yesterday to look over the rectory and meet with some of the vestry members. Since I had not met the man, I wandered over to the rectory to introduce myself.

When he saw me, he broke into a big smile, strode towards me with his hand extended, and greeted me with the words, "Father Jake! It's so good to finally meet you!"

It appears that he is an acquaintance of Louie Crew. Not long ago, Louie had asked for my permission to circulate something I had written. In order to strengthen the impact, he requested that I allow my real name to be attached to the piece. I gave him permission. Within a week, I noted that on at least one conservative site I had been "outed," complete with a link to the parish where I serve, and the accompanying photo.

The only reason I chose to be anonymous in the first place was because of a request from a family member. I've never been very deeply undercover. Quite a few folks have asked privately as to my real identity, which, in most cases, I have given. Others have figured it out, through various means.

I want to caution all of you who think you are completely anonymous that it is quite difficult to keep such anonymity over time. The technology alone makes it fairly simple for a persistent person to dig up enough info to identify you. For instance, some of you might be surprised to know that I can track such things as the city in which a visitor lives, which site they visited prior to mine, and where they went afterwards. Such info is rarely of much value, unless your site is being used for marketing, but sometimes, especially when you suspect someone is playing games, it can be helpful.

I have always assumed that I would be outed, and have written with that in mind. It is helpful for me to imagine that my bishop and my senior warden are visiting Jake's place.

Does this mean I'm going to stop being Jake? No, for the one valid reason for not using my real name; google. As one example of why it is better to limit folk's ability to google you, it could be disruptive to a family member's ability to effectively live out their vocation. The words we put out in cyber space will be around for a long time. Even if we are brave enough to take the risk of being controversial for some cause, the effect that this might have on those around us needs to be considered.

The parish's new rector is a fine man, who I feel has clearly been called to this place at this time. We had a good visit. At it's conclusion, he shook my hand, and said, "I look forward to speaking again soon, Father Jake."

I must admit that is is rather disconcerting to be better known by my online identity than my rather mundane 3D one. We live in strange times.


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