What’s in a name if it’s transparent? The concept of a “name” has always been an important part of interactivity due to the convenience of association. We use names to keep people and things distinct when we reference them. Beyond that, their significance can be magnified by the value we place on them (e.g. exorcisms, Rumpelstiltskin). It stands to reason that one’s true name, being something of value, would be protected to some extent. We typically accomplish this simply by sharing it selectively, or by using a partial name or a nickname. Our experiences online aren’t much different; pseudonyms have long been part of the fabric of the Internet and are basically e-nicknames. Handles, monikers, and ICQ numbers have all provided the ability to identify an individual without divulging their actual name. Moreover, since a pseudonym has the characteristics of a name, it can be uniquely valued as well– it’s not uncommon to build a significant social identity around one.
These observations underline much of the recent grumbling about the use-your-real-name policies of some web sites. Facebook and Google+ (and there are many others) may have a perfectly legitimate reason for requiring true names to use their service– and even if they don’t, hey it IS their service and users have to play by their rules. But if this becomes a more common practice overall (websites are frequent bandwagoneers), the grumbling may turn into fists and pitchforks. The whole situation is made even more complex by politics. Are we seeing a paradigm shift in how we associate with each other? More importantly, have we already arrived at the dystopian future of name paranoia and government ascendancy like that found in Vernor Vinge’s True Names?