1993-03-19 - Anonymity in the real world

Header Data

From: Arthur Abraham <a2@well.sf.ca.us>
To: cypherpunks@toad.com
Message Hash: 17588fcf71ff43be54fb0ece386d69cb173609a32f42201abcee95b3e7d1a4e6
Message ID: <199303191643.AA15623@well.sf.ca.us>
Reply To: N/A
UTC Datetime: 1993-03-19 16:47:05 UTC
Raw Date: Fri, 19 Mar 93 08:47:05 PST

Raw message

From: Arthur Abraham <a2@well.sf.ca.us>
Date: Fri, 19 Mar 93 08:47:05 PST
To: cypherpunks@toad.com
Subject: Anonymity in the real world
Message-ID: <199303191643.AA15623@well.sf.ca.us>
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/plain

Re: Anonymity in the real world

John Gilmore writes:

>The person who wrote this stuff hasn't thought it through. 
Any of these
>things can and do happen right now over the telephone
>and through postal mail (anonymously).  Somehow, society has
not fallen
>into anarchy because anyone can drop a letter in a mailbox. 
Why not?
>(pause here and actually think about it...)

A lot of the stuff that appears on this list appears to come
from people glassey-eyed hypnotized by the "power" of the
internet, as if society had suddenly started behaving
differently because we now type over our telephones. 
Actually, this is an abuse of a technology, since it's much
quicker, and accurate, to talk over a telephone -- greater
bandwidth, for those who insist on describing people in
mechanical terms.

If all our desks were in the same large room, each in its own
little cubical, and we communicated by writing on pieces of
paper and magically passing them around, the effect would be
much the same as the internet -- except that the internet
saves about a forest per gigabyte.  

For those who insist the difference is that the internet is
"free", let them remember that each person has either
purchased or is paying rent for their desk, but some of the
rent is in the form of labor, etc. 

In this large room there are many people I have never meet,
but who still send me pieces of paper.  The pieces of paper
have names on them, but since I have never meet the person who
sends me a particular piece of paper, the names mean nothing;
the sender is Anonymous to _me_, though I hope they have some
friends.  If I get enough pieces of paper from the same
person, I eventually come to recognize the name, and form some
expectations of what they have written on the piece of paper;
then the person is a Pseudonym to _me_, since I still have not
yet met that individual.  

This does not seem to be a lot to argue over.

Suppose I now receive a piece of paper that says "Your doom is
coming! You have been using my pieces of paper to blow your
nose on!  I cannot let this insult go unpunished: You will die
at midnight!"  I could think: well, it's just a piece of
paper, there's no particular reason to be afraid of it.  I
could think: it's a large room, and this sender will have
trouble finding me, so my doom will never arrive.  I could
think: as with most of the people in the room, this sender has
never meet me, so my doom will not be able to recognize me.  

But what do think is: I will arrange to have a policeman at my
desk at midnight, since it is still the real world.   

This is my experience of the internet.

bandwidth expander: :-) starts here

Now I will tell a fable about the old use of the telephone.

Once upon a time, in a kingdom by the sea, the phone company
(TPC) wanted to sell the peasants' phone numbers to anybody
the peasants would call.  It was an easy way to make gold.

TPC said over and over again that peasants really enjoy doing
this. However, the peasants didn't want to join in the fun,
and insisted on having an option of deciding when TPC could
sell the phone numbers -- a cypherpunk might say the peasants
wanted to retain control of their anonymity.  

TPC saw that most of the peasants wouldn't release their phone
numbers, and so there wouldn't be enough gold in it, and
decided not to offer this wonderful service, and the peasants
lived anonymously ever after...

...for about three days until the all the people in the
kingdom, suddenly drunk on the newfound anonymity, completely
overloaded and destroyed the phone system, by all lifting
their phones at once, to place bomb threats.