I remember when I started using the internet. It was a place of pioneers: vast, full of potential, and a place very distant from everyday life. Back then, the web was a haven of anonymity. You didn’t login to sites, no-one was tracking your path from web page to web page. These were times before pervasive things such as data retention. It was pre-Google, pre-Facebook, and pre-Foursquare.
Then chats and forums started to become interesting to me. Pseudonymity was on the rise, which signified both the mistrust of such a public, uncontrolled space and the freedom of reinventing your identity. Do you remember the fervor with which Neo pushes for the use of his (chosen) handle over his birth name in The Matrix?
Now we live in very different times. The web is lawful like any other public space, users are accountable for their actions and “the social” brought real identity back in fashion. Although I’m told there are a few fake name accounts, most people don’t want to use a pseudonym on social networks—the services tie into real life too closely for that to be viable.
Instead of login, nowadays we authenticate. Where a person from the eras of anonymity and pseudonymity would have felt threatened or awkward, respectively, when mentioned by their real name in discourse, today it’s demanded—and failure to comply punished by the community itself.
The web has become personal. The web has become real.