Monday, July 16, 2007

Question & Answer With Dixie Yid - The Irony Of Anonymity

(Picture courtesy of battlemedia.com)

A Simple Jew asks:

One of the advantages of being an anonymous blogger is the freedom to write one's inner thoughts and thereby give the reader a glimpse into the private thoughts within one's mind. Routinely, we share thoughts we would never share with someone who knew our identity.

Yet, as time elapses and we gain regular readers, we instinctively become more guarded with what we write. It is almost as if we are afraid that our words will reveal a divergence between our written words and our online personas.

As another anonymous blogger, do you have any thoughts on this phenomenon?

Dixie Yid answers:

I'm a new blogger (almost exactly 6 months). I was asking questions about this early on in my blogging career as well. I have noticed what you talked about as well. After writing for a couple of months and corresponding with you and others, I have also developed a certain online personality, an alter ego, if you will. Like you said, I am restrained by having to write in a way that lives up to that online expectation. One way I compensate for this is by being conscious of it, and trying not to say things just because I think that is what sounds good, but rather saying what I actually believe and think. I have turned down questions that ASJ has sent me to write about in the past because I could not write about them honestly and without pretension.

I have noticed another type of irony. On one hand, I write anonymously so that I can write things that are more personal, that I perhaps wouldn't share if everyone knew who I was, just as you said. However, as Rabbi Without a Cause wrote in a post on this topic, things do not necessarily work out that way. I feel restrained in my writing for two main reasons. One is similar to a reason given in the article I just linked. I may not always be an anonymous blogger and therefore I have to be careful only to write things I do not mind being known about me. For me, this obviates much of the benefit of anonymous blogging. I suppose only one who is sure they will always remain anonymous can really benefit from that anonymity in the form of the ability to write more freely.

The second restraint I feel is that of actually maintaining the anonymity. Very often there are things about my family, my shul, my rabbi, my friends, etc. that I want to write about or share but cannot, because it would make it too easy to figure out who I am. The anonymity that is supposedly designed to free me to be a more honest writer, its self, restrains me from speaking about things that I would like to speak about. Non-anonymous bloggers like Mr. Uberdox and MoChassid have many liberties that us anonymous folks do not, because they do not have to hide their identities.

I recently posted a funny story that happened to the real-life-me because of my anonymous blogging, I posted here. Right now, I am maintaining my anonymity because several people, not least of which is my rebbe, have advised me that at this point, it is wise to do so. Therefore, that is what I am doing. Perhaps some of A Simple Jew's readers can comment about their feelings about all of the blogging anonymity.

19 Comments:

At July 16, 2007 at 8:39:00 AM EDT, Blogger Alice said...

I think you should remain anonymous for as long as you can.

 
At July 16, 2007 at 8:43:00 AM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

I plan to :)

 
At July 16, 2007 at 8:45:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Bob Miller said...

If you feel restrained against saying the wrong things, that's good!

On the other hand, as you said, a blogger can become typecast in his own mind and begin to play a role or strike a pose.

 
At July 16, 2007 at 11:13:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Simcha said...

I think in general anonymity is good in this situation. For me, it only becomes a problem when you have a "Question and Answer" or a "Guest Posting" from someone who uses a blogger name and not a real name.
We know R. Brody and R. Sears and we can read what they write on important subjects with the proper attention which they deserve. But when you have a column by someone who uses a blogging identity - how does the reader know they are qualified to speak on complicated and/or esoteric inyonim. Is it possible to maintain the writer's anonymity yet tell us their qualifications to discourse on certain subjects?

 
At July 16, 2007 at 12:28:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Bob Miller said...

Simcha touched on an important point. Also, we can follow up by contacting known people, including by phone or in person.

 
At July 16, 2007 at 12:39:00 PM EDT, Blogger DixieYid said...

Not sure what happened to the comment I tried to leave before.

Bob,

I agree it's a good thing. It seems to me that those people who use their anonymity to be completely unrestrained in what they write cause the most harm.

Simcha,

I agree with you as well. I do not think that you can place trust in anyone who blogs anonymously just on the strength of the authority of their name. You can only look at the content of what they write and let that speak for its self. If one's ideas are true or based in cited sources, you don't have to rely on me because I'm me. You can rely on the strenth of my arguments, ideas, and sources.

-Dixie Yid

 
At July 16, 2007 at 1:08:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Bob Miller said...

The casual reader of a blog is possibly not equipped to research the rightness or wrongness of what is written anonymously. While it may promote a type of laziness, the presence of a reliable "brand name" writer makes it easier to suspend skepticism for a moment and take in the message.

 
At July 16, 2007 at 2:31:00 PM EDT, Blogger Jewish Blogmeister said...

I like being anonymous although I recently found out more people no who I am than I would like.

 
At July 16, 2007 at 3:36:00 PM EDT, Anonymous chabakuk elisha said...

It seems to me that the entire point of blogging anonymously is so that there aren't any preconceived extraneous notions to get in the way of the message. Basically, you either like the message or don’t like it – but it’s never personal, and we don’t add or subtract credibility based on who the person is. An anonymous guest posting shouldn’t be a problem – we aren’t talking about psak halacha here – it’s the same thing as anyone we don’t know sharing a thought… I don’t see the hang up.
(In my case, so many people know who I am, that it's getting almost ridiculous at this point.)

 
At July 16, 2007 at 5:18:00 PM EDT, Blogger DixieYid said...

Alice,

Why do you think it's better to stay anonymous?

Chabakuk Elisha,

Sounds like a good point. But how can you be anonymous when you use your (presumably) real name? Unless you usually go by your English name that begins with the same initials, "Charles Elingston..." Seriously though, on a similar vein to what you said, I think that contributed to the words of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh author being so widely accepted. He spent over 2 years as an anonymous author. Since no one knew if he was a Litvak, a Breslover, a Chosid, a Chabadnik, a Sefardi, an Ashkenazi, etc., no one could discount his seforim on that basis. He was accepted in many places that he may not have been had his identity been known at the beginning. That may not be true, but if it is, it was definitely a good thing in his case to not have his identity known at the beginning.

Jewish Blogmeister,

At least I hope the people who know who you are are harmless... :-)

-Dixie Yid

 
At July 16, 2007 at 5:32:00 PM EDT, Anonymous chabakuk elisha said...

WHOA! I never realized that some people might think that Chabakuk Elisha was my real name! In fact it is only a blogging name...

 
At July 16, 2007 at 7:01:00 PM EDT, Blogger DixieYid said...

I guess if one has to say he's joking, the joke has already failed. My point was the Waspy English name equivalent. I'll work on my joke delivery!

-Dixie Yid

 
At July 16, 2007 at 7:38:00 PM EDT, Blogger Mottel said...

Simcha -We must trust ASJ that the people he asks know what they're talking about.

I have in fact found great restraint in blogging with a name -but a restraint I choose and desire . . . For when the world can see who I am, I must be sure that what I write is fitting to who I am.
It stops the 'writing on a bathroom' wall' effect that anonymity can bring about.

 
At July 17, 2007 at 2:04:00 PM EDT, Blogger Neil Harris said...

Firstly, thanks to ASJ and DY for a great question and a equally great answer. This is something that I think about every so often.

"Non-anonymous bloggers like Mr. Uberdox and MoChassid have many liberties that us anonymous folks do not, because they do not have to hide their identities."

As a non-Anon blogger, I'm not so sure about the 'liberties' that I have. There are plenty of things that I don't share on my blog. I, for example, would never write something titled "I'd invite your kid for a playdate, but the last time he/she came they didn't clean up".
There have been some very personal issues that I've written about in a very universal way, specifically because people who know me read my blog. Being non-anon can make you censor your writing, too.
Of course, future employment is an issue as well.
For me, using my name keeps me in check.
Another plus (that I was never planning on) was that I've come in contact with around a dozen people who I haven't spoken with in years that contacted me via my blog.

I have the upmost respect for anyone who blogs anon and puts out great content. It's the content that really matters most, IMHO.

 
At July 17, 2007 at 10:09:00 PM EDT, Blogger DixieYid said...

Neil, You sound like you regret not being anonymous. Do you think, on balance, it was the right decision to use your real name? In other words, if you could make the decision for the first time now, what would you do?

-Dixie Yid

 
At July 18, 2007 at 12:44:00 AM EDT, Blogger Neil Harris said...

My choice to use my name was mostly due to the fact that I had been posting comments for a while on other blogs using my real name and, as Bob Miller commented, it was an aspect of 'branding'.

If I was to make the decision for the first time now?
The grass is always greener on the other side. "What if..." games tend to drive me crazy. I'd probably do everything pretty much the same.

 
At July 18, 2007 at 8:22:00 AM EDT, Blogger Alice said...

Dixie Yid- People who put their opinions out there bring drama into their lives. Some of the drama is terrific and some of it is a waste of energy- energy that could go towards studying, family, friends, etc.

I enjoy ASJ's blog and don't want he and his lovely wife - who should post more- to have to deal with a bunch of silliness.

And as you or someone already pointed out, anonymity isn't being misused in this situation, in my opinion.

I'm learning as I age to help people mind their own business (I don't mean that in a nasty way) by not putting myself out there quite so much, so perhaps that is making me biased.

 
At July 18, 2007 at 9:35:00 AM EDT, Blogger yitz.. said...

I think that as a Jew, in a way it is really important never to hide behind anonymity. Just as we are supposed to remember that even in a closed room HaShem can see everything, so too, whenever we talk about anything, it should always be something we are willing to stand behind.

One could say that being anonymous allows for bringing up issues that might otherwise be Lashon Harah, but I think deep down, if you know who you are talking about, it's still causing you some level of harm vis a vis Lashon Harah. (unfortunately... and I hate to be dan l'kaf chova ever.. but I can't see it any other way.)

I believe as Jews we need to be open about anything that should be open, and if something shouldn't be open -- like one's relationship with one's wife -- then no one knowing who I am shouldn't make it ok to bring up those topics. Because I know who I am, and HaShem knows who I am, and opening it up to other third parties still affects a cheapening of the kedushah of what is private within myself.

(the only exception to this rule is a Rebbe (to my mind)--- even a psychologist or a counselor is problematic to my limited knowledge and opinions)

On another note, I feel bound as well, not because of people knowing who I am, or because of a specific tone I associate with how people will think of me. But because I want my blog to be a source of Torah.. and so sometimes I'd like to post amusing things or jokes, or stam crazy theories I have that even I don't believe, or just personal updates about what is going on in my life--- but, I don't want the lighter content to interfere with people's ability to get at the Torah content, so I've found I probably need to create a separate blog for the nonsense :)

 
At July 18, 2007 at 2:41:00 PM EDT, Blogger DixieYid said...

Yitz and Alice,

You both have such different approaches and I hear what you both have to say.

Yitz, I agree that when I read lashon hara on an anonymous blog or if something is written in a way to disguise the idenitity of someone being talked about, it still smacks of lashon hara to me. I think some readers will be able to figure out who's being discussed in many cases anyway, and that seems just wrong.

I think ASJ is a good example of what Alice talked about. He only says good things on his blog and he does share some quite personal things, so I could definitely see how his anonymity contributes to much needed privacy for him and his family.

-Dixie Yid

 

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