“Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them.” – Albert Einstein

Anyone who maintains a presence on the web faces the question of how much to really reveal about their personal lives.  While there are some who use the blog format for political ranting, artistic criticism, or popular commentary, I would warrant that for the vast majority of bloggers out there, this is a cheaper form of talk therapy.  We write about what we know, hoping that the act of writing, of forming words that may resonate with some other human soul, will somehow order our sphere of the universe into something we can control or at least understand.

And what we know best is ourselves.  We hope we can turn our inner pain, our inner joy outward and touch somebody.  We hope to hear the words “I understand, I feel that way, too.”  We hope, perhaps, to inspire.  Or just to share the burden of sorrow.  It’s a process that seems somehow less vulnerable with a bunch of faceless strangers than across a dinner table.  That’s the power of it, the seduction of it.

But, the most prudent of us realize that there needs to be limits on how much of ourselves we reveal. Some use nicknames for their children, their spouses and even their towns.  Most of us do not post the details of our neighborhoods, or pictures of the exteriors of our houses.  Because even though it takes a certain level of extroversion to “flash” our deepest personal thoughts to the world, we know that among those faceless strangers who share our vicarious lives, there are those whose interests are less than balanced.

I write this with the full realization that I am an odd person to judge what is “balanced”.  I dress up in armor on the weekends and hit people.  I re-create a medieval society, with all its Machiavellian politics and social interactions, in my spare time. For fun.  That being said, after 26 years of involvement, I can testify that the vast majority of people in the SCA are remarkably normal, everyday folks.  Professionals and tradesmen, lawyers, doctors, and computer programmers.  If you walk into my house, you would see the home of a middle-class professional with its subdued color scheme, leather sofas, matching bedroom suite, carefully chosen decor.  No suits of armor in the corner.  No swords on the wall. 

But I also know, that like the worlds of any virtual reality, by our nature, our hobby attracts the fringes of society, the escapists, the disenchanted and the flat-out weird.  I hit people with sticks.  I own at least four medieval gowns and two canvas pavilions.  When I say weird, we are talking a whole new level of weird. 

Lately I have had to face the concept that the intersection of my hobbies has resulted in a need to limit my internet exposure.  The theoretical has become just a little less faceless recently and has coalesced into an individual who is just imbalanced enough to have fantasized a relationship and a vendetta that simply do not exist.  This is not somebody I have ever interacted with before in any newsgroup, bulletin board, or at any gathering.  I have never seen their face.  This is not a misunderstanding of a past interaction.  I am just a person that, simply by virtue of my exposure, fell into the path of a dark dream that I did not help to create, nor am I able to change or dispel.  The level of disconnect evident in the exchanges I have had are enough to assign more alarm than I would have given in the past.

While I find the likelihood of this obsession manifesting itself in a physically malevolent way to be relatively remote, it is a likelihood I still must take seriously.  I have always ventured into cyberspace with a fearless abandon.  Personal security is something I have always taken for granted.  Physical fear is something, despite living for years in the inner city of two large metropolises, that I have never felt.  The one time I was mugged, my immediate reaction was one of infuriated resistance, an act of stupidity that made me shake only after the incident was over and I had time for the thinking brain to assert itself.  But now I have a young son whose safety I cannot take for granted, whose vulnerability I feel in my bones. Nothing like a good dose of parenthood to fuel suppressed paranoia.

So, I did something I have resisted doing for quite some time – I am deleting identifiers.  The pictures of my son and my husband, and the few of myself will remain.  But our town, surname, the name of my employer, the immediately traceable things are coming out.  I do not fool myself too much; a dedicated internet search could trace me fairly expediently if somebody knew where to look and put enough small details together.  My former career is too public by nature to be really able to suppress an imprint on the internet.  But I am no longer going to hand it to people fearlessly. 

There is a certain sadness to doing this.  I know I am only being prudent, even realistic, but I feel like I am capitulating to a kind of arrogant fear.  It always struck me as a bit presumptuous to assume that somebody would pick me, out of all the people on the internet, to fixate on.  There’s a level of vanity in that assumption that I have always found ludicrous.  My life is far too normal and boring to become the object of obsession.  The very idea is laughably absurd.  It is my own light-hearted self-deprecation that has been the very basis of my fearlessness all of my life.  To capitulate to the idea that I can (and have) been singled out is an excess of pride I am almost ashamed of.

So, here’s the rub.  The fickle finger of insanity can fall on anyone.  For any reason, or for no reason at all.  You choose the face you present to the world, but choose it with forethought.  The world of the web has made it easier for people to reach out, to find each other, to connect and to affirm.  But we have traded some of of our anonymity for the privilege of that participation.  Choose how much of that anonymity you will trade carefully.

October 13th, 2006 at 11:02 am
3 Responses to “Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they are not out to get you”
  1. 1
    Sheila Says:

    It don’t think its fearful, I think its wise. You are right, someone could figure it out easily, but we don’t hand it to them on a plate. You have intuition for a reason. Its the right thing to do to use it.

  2. 2
    Marvin Says:

    Oh, crap. I’ve deal with this kind of thing on a professional level and I can pretty much guess the profile of the individual with whom you are having a problem. Sorry this has happened to you.

  3. 3
    Kat Says:

    I’ve been nervous about this for a long time — one of my former co-workers got busted for what he wrote on his blog. So no name, no workplace — and considering how much my job is a part of who I am, that’s saying something. I’ve actually had a stalker (in those amazing pre-internet days for me!) and the idea of going through that again scares the hell out of me.