Wednesday, July 06, 2005

On the Internet No One Knows You're a Dog

You know The New Yorker cartoon? The dog sitting at the computer, saying to another dog, 'On the internet, no one knows you're a dog.' It's my favorite New Yorker cartoon.

I was enraptured initially by the idea of posting as 'Onyx'. I mean, 'Onyx' is such a dorky, adolescent, internet kind of pseudonym. When I first started posting under pseudonym, I thought it would be a chance to disentangle my comments from my reputation, whatever that might be. And I was startled to find out people thought I was a clueless newbie. (And delighted to be addressed as Mr. Onyx.) I was aware that the traditional use of anonymity is to allow the writer to criticize without fear of reprisal, but as I started writing, I realized that I was no more ready to criticize someone when anonymous than I was when using my name. I know too many people in this field. But I wasn't ready for some of the stuff I did hear. I was startled to hear, for example, that Onyx had 'gone after' Christopher Rowe. (I heard this or read it in a couple of places. Luckily, Christopher did not appear to feel savaged.) More importantly, I just don't feel right posting critique without owning up to it. So I pretty much vowed that I wouldn't say anything as 'Onyx' that I wouldn't say under my own name.

I always suspected that anonymity wouldn't last. Too many people are in the Cabal and conspiracies, even light-hearted ones, don't hold up for long.

But I was naively unaware of how the pseudonyms would becomes such a lightning rod. And it I didn't anticipate sending 'Onyx' emails to people I knew, pretending not to know them, or even weirder, listening to people talk about Onyx while I was there, and they were unaware of who I was. And it never occurred to me (although it is obvious in retrospect) that people would assume we have a united agenda. I knew we didn't have a united agenda. (Of course people assumed we were united. And had an agenda. We're a Cabal for God's sake.) Well, we don't have a united agenda. I have a lot to say about why we should write novels and stories exploring gender. I write novels and stories exploring gender. Although I'm pleased to discuss what's valuable about that. (Okay, not a lot. Literature is not without importance, but it's also not terrifically important. On Maslow's hierarchy of needs it comes way after food, water, security, all that good stuff. But that's another post.) In retrospect, I really should have suspected the result, but I guess I wasn't even remotely prepared for it. I wasn't even sure anyone would find us.

Mostly I had real reservations about posting as 'Onyx'. It seemed dishonest. So much so that I promised myself that I would out myself if someone asked me to or if it even seemed to be obscuring a conversation. So I did (although my unmasking was inevitable considering that immediately afterwards I screwed up sending an email and sent it out under my regular address. That's me, Maureen McHugh,, although I'll get your emails at keymaster, too.) I'm told that my identity is common knowledge in much of the blogosphere.

I am officially throwing off my mask and cape and coming out of the shadows. I'm not going to expose the rest of my fellow cabalists and actually like the idea that they are still cloaked, if only for the sake of the betting pool. (Okay, partly because I can't always remember who is who.) I'm going to keep posting as Onyx, but I'll update my profile to reflect who I am.

But I'm sure glad to come clean.


Blogger David Moles said...

I think it was a phase the place was bound to go through. Hope the taste it's left in your mouth isn't too sour.

10:32 PM  
Blogger ccfinlay said...

Oh man, now I feel bad for calling Onyx a pokecritic.

I guess that I just feel that the act of posting criticism anonymously, when one appears to claim a certain amount of writing experience as part of the basis for the criticism, draws more attention to the anonymity than it does to the work being considered. If that makes sense. Which is backwards of how it should be. I'd rather see people talk about stories.

Anyway. Thanks for outing yourself.

1:53 AM  
Anonymous Rahkan said...

Oh man, cmon. Outing yourself destroys the fun of the game. I personally think you should have just soldiered on and posted some real actual insightful criticism that proved how useful this pseudonymity thing is. Now everyone else is gonna have to out him or herself, or it'll be wierd. And then this place isn't going to be special anymore (unless you want to start saying some really insightful things)

4:48 AM  
Blogger Christopher Barzak said...

ahahahaha (I knew it was you when you used the phrase "neither fish nor fowl" many posts ago. I was like, this is soo Maureen. Because it's a phrase you used at Clarion in 98 and when you came to Youngstown State to do a reading for us, you used it to describe Janna, the protagonist of Mission Child. So I was not surprised in the least when I was later informed it was you.

I actually went back through all the posts from the beginning, and the comments, last week, and have to say, initially people weren't all that disinviting. It was actually only a few posts that seemed to raise some people's hackles. And I found it odd how the anonymity became a lightning rod as well. Interesting in and of itself.

Well, one cabalist out, the others still hooded. Suddenly it feels like a reality tv show. ;-)

5:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, Maureen. I appreciate the context. I like a lot of your work and hope I didn't offend with any comments. I look forward to your future posts.

Actually, another one is known, but it's not for me to say who he is.


9:19 AM  
Blogger Johnny Dark said...

Since Onyx unmasked, I guess I should too. My real name is Isaac Asimov (yeah, I faked the death thing-- that famous-SF-writer gig was getting tedious)

10:55 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

The problem with being "unknown" is you completely sacrifice whatever credibility you have under your real name. Which, I gather, was part of the point. But it's also why there was (and is) so much skepticism about some of the posts and discussions here. Call it the "Who is this Joker?" effect. Since the answer wasn't apparent, that became the focus. And will remain so, at least in part, until the rest of the Cabal unmask themselves. Happily, their identities are not as unknown as they may think . . .

1:03 PM  
Blogger gwenda said...

Well, I love your other blog and think you have a fabulous "blog voice," if that term isn't too cringeworthy. So the more Maureen on the internet, the better.

Was great to get to hang out in Asheville, if only for a little bit.

6:25 PM  
Blogger Onyx said...

Hey, I can still see reasons for being anonymous, and if Isaac...I mean Johnny wants to stay that way, I think that's great. Eventually there won't be much else to say about the pseudonym thing, right?

Chris, I was trying so hard not to use any of my standard phrases! I knew it would happen, though.

Gwenda, when are you and Christopher coming to visit so Christopher and Bob can bicycle bond? (No bond puns intended, I swear.)

6:40 PM  
Blogger Safe Light said...

Jeff V sez:

Actually, another one is known, but it's not for me to say who he is.

Um. Well I know Tim Pratt nailed me pretty quick, so maybe I'm who you're thinking of. Could be someone else. Dunno.

Anyway, Daniel Abraham here. Gimme a minute and I may even figure out how to change the profile inteface.

Like Maureen, sorry if I stepped on any toes, but I'm damned pleased to have gotten to talk with folks.

I'll keep posting as Safe Light, since there is a certain fun in bein' the masked Mexican wrestler of amateur genre criticism.

6:52 PM  
Blogger David Moles said...

Ah, so Johnny is Isaac Asimov at the age of seventeen! I knew it!

7:09 PM  
Blogger David Moles said...

And, yeah, I think talking about the pseudonymity thing is very two weeks ago.

7:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, it was you, Daniel. I like you a lot better as Daniel than as Safelight, to be honest. LOL.


11:16 PM  
Blogger Brickworks said...

I can see it now, I reveal myself, and everyone says, "Who?"

10:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Um, I see no reason to believe Oynx is Maureen. We've already have people post as Maureen, and as other people.

Sorry, we'll need more evidence.

1:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And how do we know you're really anonymous, anonymous? Lots of people are claiming to be anonymous! Like me for one!

2:32 PM  
Anonymous Dark Cabal said...

7:06 PM  
Blogger Foxessa said...

Chasin' tales! Chastening tails!


8:51 PM  
Blogger Qwui said...

Zounds! Here I am, back from a couple of weeks of vacation, and already the saga is at the chapter titled "In Which A Dark Cabal is Unmask'd, and Several Old Friends Reappear In New Guises."

What a bunch of slackers I have for co-conspirators!

I'll let that chapter title end with "But Some Mysteries Still Remain."

10:50 PM  
Blogger ScottM said...

Unfortunately, you seem to have been derailed before you got very far. Is this long hiatus a lull, or are you all done wow that anonymity's over?

2:08 PM  
Anonymous Tacky said...

Thank goodness that's over, and we can get back to informative critical discussion of the field, huh?

Oh, wait. It's been 9 days with no new posts.

The masks have been stripped away to reveal, uh, nothing.

4:51 PM  
Blogger Safe Light said...

Actully busy getting my ass kicked at work. The powers that be have decided to move the whole documentation structure (10 years of peicemeal one thing & another & half-hearted attempts) onto a wiki.

Good idea. Effing painful to do.

Pity too, because I've been reading some guilty-pleasure horror, ane there's some stuff I want to kick around with this crowd.

Tomorrow, hopefully...

11:25 PM  
Blogger Safe Light said...

Tacky says:

The masks have been stripped away to reveal, uh, nothing.

Ah, c'mon man. If there's one thing we've established in this little gig, it's that it's possible to be anonymous without being a dick about it. :)

1:35 AM  
Anonymous Benjamin Rosenbaum said...

Hey Maureen, and others:

Here's that essay by Clay Shirky that I mentioned at Sycamore Hill. I think this explains in part why people's responses to pseudonymity online can be so violent:

(And in particular, a case where one online actor says "I have another identity in this community, but I will not reveal it", e.g. "I can take actions with identity A without repurcussions for identity B", particularly wigs netizens out).

(And let me also say again that I found your post "The Next Generation", in particular, very useful in pointing towards directions to grow in.)

4:05 PM  
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