Some further thoughts on Identity

I’ve just got back from having a tea with Neko up at the lab and, along with catching up on all the gossip I’ve missed in the last few months, she made me rethink my approach to identity. It was one of those moments – I was saying something, and it was only as I finished that I realised it was what I truly believed, even though it went slightly contrary to opinions I professed only a little while ago.

We were talking about reasons the Wiki failed to make the splash we wanted it to and pinned it down to two things: Archaeologists are remarkably anti- shiny new technology; and there was no one prodding the conversation to get it going. We both still feel that wikis are great tools to facilitate conversation, but that’s it – they facilitate it, they don’t make the conversation. Just because you have a wiki, it doesn’t mean you’re going to have a great conversation, at least not without a fair degree of input from interested parties.

What continues to excite both of us, however, is the possibility of using wikis in peer-review situations, and in situations were normal open conversation cannot take place. The degree of anonymization inherent in the wiki-engine can be an amazing boon for people who, for whatever reason, want to participate in a discussion, but who fear the consequences of publicly stating their opinions. This potential to democratize academia and discussion gets quite a lot of us jumping up and down going “Woot!”

I made a deal about ‘reputation’ in my previous post, and how this is linked (in academic contexts) primarily to your name. At the time of writing that post, I was coming down on the side of anonymous = bad (at least, = not the ideal), and whilst I still feel this, I am forced to admit that there are situations where anonymity can be a good thing.

For example, in a situation such as a wiki focusing on reviewing new articles (got to escape the closed review-board model of Antiquity at all costs – run away, run away!), you might want to make contributions/comments but you fear the retribution you would get if it was clear it was YOU saying it. Perhaps the author is (a) your supervisor, (b) a god in your field, (c) someone you have to work with, (d) you imagine something. Whilst I am a believer that you should always stand by what you say, there are times when I have only participated in a discussion because of the shield of anonymity given to me by the medium I am using – knowing you can make a fool of yourself and not have it traced back to you (easily) makes it much easier to look your supervisor in the eye!

I still feel that identity, and more importantly truth in identity, is vital, but I’ll freely admit that I missed out a chunk of reasoning for anonymity, or at least pseudonymity.

(I made the above argument for democratization much better in my thesis by the way 😉 )

identity, anonymity, pseudonymity, reputation, freedom of anonymous speech, wiki, democratization, democratization of academia