To approximate the whole thing in a vague way gives you a feeling that you’ve more or less touched the thing, but in this way you just lead yourself toward confusion and ultimately you’re going to get so confused that you’ll never find your way out.

-Bill Evans-

Design implies intent. However, when we are missing the holistic perspective, intentional solutions at a micro-level create unintentional consequences to the larger system. A shadow Design emerges, circumventing the Design process at the system-level and leaving us with a systemic solution that only vaguely touches on the fundamental problems that the system must solve.

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Issue 3. December 2016

design & anonymity

Anonymity —or to be made indistinguishable— takes many forms in our world. In the pseudonym or alias; in the lost individuality of a mob; in the perceived honesty of the suggestion box; in the reduction of individuals into stereotypes, labels, users, or market-segments; in the coerced conformity of unstated expectations; in the complexity of a system that obscures the individuals responsible; and in the quantified abstractions of people into Big Data.

It is a state in which one has abandoned one’s identity —one’s being— to an abstraction. It is to become faceless, to be free of history and idiosyncrasies, and in many aspects, to become a myth. It is in essence to, however subtly, sever oneself from truth, and —through human interaction— perpetuate falsehood & romance. It can also, ironically, be a last refuge to find real human connection in a world that lacks forgiveness, compassion, and freedom.

As anonymity is baked into our technology, discourse, and everyday experience as if it were a basic human right, it seems worthwhile to ponder what this curious state means for being human. What do we gain and at what cost? What purpose does it serve?

It is impossible, after all, to be friends with a mob: they are simply a cloud of faces bearing witness to romance.

-James Baldwin, A Question of Identity , 1955-


Video: Kim Sooja’s A Needle Woman series

In the elaborations of her anonymity, Kim presents a sensibility acutely aware of the warring contradictions between her desire for an erasure of self and the kind of resolve necessary to confront the environment she so eloquently, albeit silently, strives against.

- Jonathan Goodman in Conditions of Anonymity: The Performance Art of Kim Sooja -

  • “No form of electronic countermeasures to keep your anonymity intact can save you from dumb decisions.”

    Hackaday’s guide to how to remain anonymous online.

  • Western tradition of leveling individual African artists into the ‘anonymous’, driven by “Western folk-wisdom, nurtured by the colonial experience, which assumed that Africans were simple, ‘primitive’ people, and that they lacked the kind of self-awareness and sophistication that is the mark of the full-fledged artist.”

    Michael Gibson, African Art Shatters Western Assumptions: Out of Anonymity, 2001

  • “There is a vast dissonance between virtual communication and an actual police officer at the door. It is a dissonance we are all running up against more and more, the dissonance between the world of faces and the world without faces. And the world without faces is coming to dominate.”

    The Epidemic of Facelessness by Stephen Marche, 2015, The New York Times

  • “And the rest of us, in our indignant perfection, will shake our heads and tweet about it.”

    Katie Roger’s article on the irreality of identity in our age through the public and anonymous Ken Bone

  • “Often [‘real name’] policies attempt to reduce or eliminate the veil behind which online bullying, harassment, and stalking can occur. However, there are unintended consequences to anti-pseudonymity policies.”

    Geek Feminism’s list of Who is harmed by a 'Real Names' policy?

system goals.

Using anonymity to “create a crime,
exposing a bigger crime.”

Graffiti artist SkidRobot

  • Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.”

    Tradition 12 of Alcoholics Anonymous

  • “Anonymity on the internet provides a vital service and enhances freedom of expression and that most negative affects of anonymity can be minimized by following a few guidelines related to how anonymous services are provided and used.”

    A 1995 MIT student paper by Karina Rigby, Anonymity on the Internet Must be Protected

  • “Imagine if all of art history was taught without the identity of the artist. Suddenly, all of art would be open to wider interpretations without being stuck in a meaningless cycle of artistic movements and personalities. Anonymous street art radically poses the question of how much an artist’s identity really matters to art-viewing.”

    Emily Colucci’s 2011 Thoughts on Anonymous Street Art

  • “Alex Türk, the French data-protection commissioner, has called for a ‘constitutional right to oblivion’ that would allow citizens to maintain a greater degree of anonymity online and in public places.”

    Jeffrey Rosen cites anonymity as potentially helping the web strive to embrace the “limits of human memory [that] ensure that people’s sins are eventually forgotten”

systemic failure.

A new report from the UK’s Government Office For Science warns that the explosive growth in artificial intelligence, driven by Big Data, could mean that anonymised individuals in datasets might be extraordinarily easy to re-identify.

Martin Anderson’s recent article for The Stack

  • “When we feel anonymous, we lose focus of our moral compass and are more likely to behave badly.”

    Erica Slotter as quoted in Why We Become Such Assholes When We’re Behind the Wheel, Gizmodo 2016

  • “The market will fix the problem, the companies say, because if people don't like being tracked then they can opt not to be. But the Vertesi experiment shows that if you take measures to avoid being tracked, then you increase the probability that you will be. Which is truly Kafkaesque.”

    Attempts to stay anonymous on the web will only put the NSA on your trail, John Naughton for The Guardian, 2014

  • “That’s one problem with anonymous sources: They often get it wrong because why make sure you have it right when you will not be held accountable for what you say.”

    John Christie’s 2014 plea to the media to stop abusing anonymous sources in their coverage and to start ”valuing being right over being first“


There is something that happens when you write an emotion down, then leave the words somewhere for someone else to find

Ambivalently Yours

There are so few avenues left, in our all-seeing, all-revealing digital world, for artistic mystery of the true kind —mystery that isn’t concocted as a publicity play but that finds its origins in the writer’s soul as a prerogative of his or her ability to create. That kind of mystery has a corresponding point in the soul of the receptive reader.

Alexandra Schwartz’s contemplation of the power of author’s anonymity, The “Unmasking” of Elena Ferrante

  • “Doctors deal with difficult and challenging cases. Sometimes, we may wonder if we made a mistake. While it is a closed community, doctors may not want their co-workers and hospital administrators to see such conversations.”

    The Value of Anonymity in Online Medical Crowdsourcing Communities, Dr. Linda Girgis, MedCity News, 2014

  • “In an age in which engagement with artistic works has been displaced by gossiping about celebrity artists, the anonymous innovators have forced us to return our gaze to the creative product.”

    Ted Giogia, The New Cult of the Anonymous Artist

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Our world is designed through our actions and inactions, ignorance and enlightenment. With this newsletter, we strive to provide some of the context necessary to understand the largest problems facing the world today. We are all implicit in this mess.

There is absolutely no inevitability as long as there is a willingness to contemplate what is happening.

Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is the Massage


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