Mental Health Camp is an Unconference around the interaction between social media and mental illness, focused on using digital tools for healing, support, and community. It’s being organized by Raul Pacheco and Isabella Mori and will be presented at the Workspace in downtown Vancouver on Saturday, April 25th. This is the first year it’s taking place.
I know from personal experience that illness, even debilitating illness, does not negate that need for community and connection that is born into all human beings, and the internet can be a highly efficient way for people to maintain those links when they can’t be physically present among friends. I’ve also seen how some people prey on others and take advantage of their vulnerabilities, and I’ve learned more than I ever thought anyone would need to know about protecting people from that kind of abuse. I’ve seen the mind games nearly take lives a few times, and have always tried very hard to make sure people have the armour they need and a sophisticated awareness of social media, enough to free them to act and empower them to do so without fear of reprisal.
One of the strongest principles in the online world is the principle of anonymity, or rather pseudonymity; the freedom engendered by forming a new, wholly online identity. It is this principle that is the topic of my proposal for Mental Health Camp.
“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”
– Oscar Wilde
In this presentation I’ll discuss the postive and negative uses of pseudonymity and anonymity, its freedoms, its dangers, and its responsibilities. Indeed, in a world where new identities can be formed at the click of a button, we have a larger burden of duty than we would in one where our reputations could follow us around for the rest of our lives. As well, we will examine the principle of privacy as it applies to online activities, particularly with regard to its limitations. We will touch on role theory as well as look at some examples of sites using the concept of identity in a fluid and creative fashion.
One of the very first sites I ever became hooked on was one on the late, lamented Diary-X; it was called Chimera House, and at first I thought it was a blog written by several housemates who didn’t all get along. Some of them were sleeping with others, some of them hated one particular person and ganged up on them in the blog, etc. Quite a lot of drama. It was three years of reading that blog before the author specifically explained that it was a home for his various alter personalities to communicate with one another and express themselves, which I thought a very socially sophisticated way of dealing with a complicated situation. To this day, I miss some of those personalities, and I miss the unique community that the blog embodied.
The internet gives everyone powerful tools for reinvention and expression; to reexamine the question of identity in this context is the one of the most important challenges of our age.