I used to frequent a site where almost everyone was anonymous. People didn’t use their real names. Instead of a name given by someone else we used words that had meaning specific to who we were on the inside.
People wrote about what was really going on in their real lives. There were pleas for advice posted at all times of the day and night – illness, breakups, depression, death – they wrote whatever they were feeling and openly shared their hurts and needs. Or they made up crazy stuff to get other people to engage with them – but honestly those people probably needed just as much help.
I learned that the world is a very small place. Geographical location has little meaning anymore in terms of connecting with other people. When it was day for me, it was the middle of the night for some of my friends. During that time I was closer to some people online than to most of the people in my real life.
I learned that you can love someone you’ve never met or even seen. They knew the real me and accepted me – peculiarities, struggles and all. When I was down, they were there to encourage me with kind words, biblical wisdom and practical advice. When they need advice or encouragement, I was there for them – because I genuinely cared about them. Knowing each other on the inside bonded us to together.
I learned that prayer works online. I never knew it would or could. But when a person prays for you online, it’s just like they’re praying sitting right beside you. In Matthew 18:20 it says, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” This applies to online too! When someone first prayed for me online I cried and cried, that God would so honor us with his presence, even in our fallen state and even through technology.
I learned that like attracts like. You may have the idea that this was some sort of Christian site. It most certainly was not. It was the worst den of iniquity I have ever been in. The people there let out who they really were inside. And truth be told, for many people, what’s inside them is intensely unpleasant. But in all that corruption and hopelessness we, the believers, found each other. Like attracts like. Either that or light is attractive, except to those who love darkness.
I’ve walked away from that site now – the evil there being more than I could bear anymore. But I miss those types of interactions. On Facebook we label ourselves with our ‘real’ names and pull on personas we feel will be accepted by our peers and family. We don’t conceal our identity like we did on that website I used to frequent. But we do. Most of do us hide who we are inside because we fear people won’t like our true inner selves. There are social norms to follow on Facebook. And we see these people out in our community. So, most people put up a front. And I do it too.
I feel sad sometime when I think about who I used to be online. Back then, I used to hide my name from people. Now I hide who I really am.
That’s why I have taken some time today to think back on what I learned from my time on that website. What can I carry with me into what I do now? I think I know what I want…what I need.
I want to be real. I want to make connections. I want to love.
Have you ever been anonymous online? What was your experience?