Let me start with what I think is the best application of anonymity we have seen this year: Tiger Compliments. This Facebook page, set up by an anonymous senior girl, allows Facebook users to post anonymous compliments on any Princetonian page. You might say, “It’s a shame it has to be anonymous, that people can’t just tell the people in their lives what they think about them.” But there is something different about an anonymous compliment — you have no idea who it is from. You expect your friends and the people you know well to care about you. They are supposed to — they are your friends. But it takes on a whole new meaning when it is someone that doesn’t have to but just feels compelled by how good you are to write a comment about it.
This is something the administrator of the page understands well; she has made it clear people should not find out who she is or try to figure out who is giving which compliments. The point is just to enjoy the good things people are saying about each other. The reason anonymity has this power, good or bad, is because the anonymous person is not compelled to do anything. If I’m in the anti-X club and you say something that’s pro-X, it’s my job to say something, much like I am often compelled by friendship to compliment my friends. Anonymous statements are from people who don’t need to say anything but who went out of their way to make their points known.
Another issue involving anonymity this semester has been this dialogue about the hookup culture. The fact that such encounters are often called “anonymous sex” makes the connection clear. People are asking if it is good or bad for people to have sex with people they don’t know, people who are anonymous to them. The most recent Love and Lust in the Bubble discussed this issue, arguing it is incomplete to simply say “just let people do what they want,” since people often don’t know what they want or they do things they later find are not in line with what they really want.
The author (who is, of course, anonymous) is saddened by the fact that our culture has created a third state between “friend” and “boyfriend/girlfriend” that is nebulous and difficult to navigate. One is forced into a relationship that is at the same time anonymous and intimate. This kind of anonymity is cold and detached; it forces a person not to spend time getting to know their sexual partner for fear it will end their sexual relationship. Of course, as everyone is quick to say, this is not everyone’s experience with hooking up. Yet everyone has to deal with different expectations in relationships, and the feeling that “the more I show my true colors, the less chance I will have to shape things on my terms” is alive and well in our culture. Anonymity is power, which comes from not showing the other person the chink in your armor.
In all, viewing anonymity as having an important role to play in this Facebook, hookup generation helps explain a bit of the generational divide we see over this issue. Compare the columns by professor Joshua Katz and President Shirley Tilghman, which broadly oppose anonymity, to those of Opinion Editor Emeritus David Robinson and Vivienne Chen, which support it. The point here is not that there are new ideas and thinkers trumping older ones but that anonymity means a different thing to this generation than it did (and does) to the previous one, and any cultural critique of this generation will have to start with the pronunciation of this strange word first before figuring out what in the world it means.
Luke Massa is a philosophy major from Ridley Park, Pa. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.