Remaining anonymous

I have often considered “coming out of the closet” on this blog by revealing my identity (full name, location, etc.) Some of my regular visitors might know some of those details, but most of the people who visit this site by way of a search engine do not.

I received the following comment on my post about marriage equality this morning:

Spare me the touchy feely political correctness. I think all gays should be shot. And I’m NOT being sarcastic. Sinners.

Although it doesn’t contain a direct threat, it is downright vile, and it reaffirms my intentions to remain as anonymous as possible.

In Google we trust

I make no bones about the fact that I’m a Google fan. I love their varied services and use them daily. In fact, it scares me a little to consider they probably know more about me than most of my friends do.

Almost everything I do online is either on a Google-owned site or facilitated by a Google search. My iGoogle start page is the first thing I see when I log onto the internet – using Google’s web browser. Heck, I even use a Google-powered phone!

Here are a few of the Google services that I regularly use:

  • Chrome browser
  • iGoogle start page
  • Google Plus
  • Bookmarks
  • Calendar
  • Gmail
  • Documents
  • Photos
  • Search
  • Music
  • Reader
  • Maps
  • YouTube
  • Sites

I know people who think this is “putting all your eggs in one basket,” but surely it is less dangerous to share so much of my life with ONE company that I trust instead of giving pieces of it away to a handful of different companies. We all know Facebook’s record on using and selling its user’s information to advertisers, yet look how many people are still using it.

Am I too trusting of a company that makes billions a year on advertising? Probably. But I also realize that no matter which company’s services I use, I am providing an enormous digital footprint that allows me to be easily targeted by advertisers. The “free” services we are used to using aren’t really free. There is a cost to everything.

After All

I miss writing. Really writing, not just posting short status updates or tidbits on Facebook. This space seems to be the only corner of the internet where I can bare my soul, but even that has become more difficult of late.

When I first started blogging, I had virtually no visitors and only a few people who were very close to me knew how to find this site. That made it a little easier to share my feelings without worrying about being judged. As time went on my coworkers, friends, family, and people I went to church with began to learn of this space and make comments to me about things I had written.

Although they were almost always positive reactions, thinking that everything I was writing might be dissected under some imagined magnifying glass made it much harder for me to share my feelings. Still I continued, hoping that sharing my experiences as a gay man might change hearts and minds.

I even recently added my blog’s address to my Facebook profile – giving scores of people instant access to some of my most private thoughts and ponderings. Several friends from my school days sent messages to congratulate me for living my life openly or to express their emotional reactions to my coming out story. I felt honored and privileged to be able to share an important aspect of my life with them after all these years.

But, as they say, there’s always another side to the story.

I feel more exposed than ever. This space feels overwhelmingly self-gratuitous (although not nearly so much as Facebook). There are too many topics that feel off-limits for me to discuss – like problems with church, family, and friends. Those things would be easy to write about if I were back in the original bliss of blogging anonymity, but alas, those days are long gone.

Still, I refuse to give up on this endeavor. Even though I’m not that good at it, I love writing. I enjoy creating something out of thin air and sharing it with complete strangers. I like the notion that something I write might change one single mind and make the world a safer place for the next generation.

I also hope that I’ve captured enough of myself in this blog that someday when I’m dead and gone, this will be my digital version of “Brian was here” – a testimony to the fact that despite our differences, we’re really not so different after all.

Pieces of me

How much of our privacy are we willing to forfeit in the name of convenience? That’s a subject that has long interested me, even more so with my recent discussion with a friend about the implantable RFID chips that have been in the news.

Technology is playing a huge, important role in most of our lives. We blog, upload our personal photos to sharing sites, listen to our portable mp3 players, talk and text message with our cell phones, and spend countless hours on the internet looking up everything from maps to concert tickets to used books.

I have been resistant to some of this technology on the basis that it might infringe on my right to privacy. However, I have noticed that given enough time, I will slowly begin to adapt and adopt these things until I feel dependent on them. I call this process “Technology creep”, because it creeps up on me.

When I first started blogging, I was intent on remaining completely anonymous. That soon morphed into a list of 100 things about myself, a photo of me on the side of the page, and revealing some of my innermost feelings for the whole world to read.

Flickr was another service that I resisted. I knew that I could keep my photos private, but I’ve seen reports of people’s photos showing up in the wrong accounts. I would upload a few photos and then delete them out of fear that they might fall into the wrong hands or get used for the wrong purposes. I finally brushed away my fears as “paranoia” and have now uploaded almost 2000 photos, convincing myself that it’s a good way to preserve those memories.

The internet can reveal a plethora of information about any particular user. Amazon keeps track of the items we view, we do our banking and pay our bills online, email can contain private thoughts we might never want revealed publicly, and search terms can reveal our medical problems. All of this information is being stored somewhere and indefinitely. We give a little of ourselves away one piece at a time.

I remember watching an episode of MTV Cribs that profiled Mariah Carey’s glamorous Manhattan apartment. She refused to let them film her bedroom or her most prized possession – a piano that belonged to Marilyn Monroe. When asked why, she simply replied, “I fear if I show that, what’s left for me?”

Well said, Ms. Carey. Maybe I should ask myself that question.