Anonymity Will Take Over the World

Anonymity Will Take Over the World

You're on YikYak, right? It seems like everybody is on either this or Snapchat or both. On these trendy new services, people can send brief, anonymous missives to the larger world. It's like Twitter, but safer and more fun, because it doesn't have to be tightly associated with you, and it doesn't last forever. We're always warned that what goes on the internet is there forever, but that's not always true. There are a few big reasons that services like YikYak and Snapchat are tapping into our most deeply held impulses as human beings, and these are why they will probably take over the world -- if they haven't done so already.

1. The lure of anonymity. That's the big one, of course. Things like Facebook demand real identities. That makes it just a little bit harder to delve into our darker selves. But anonymity allows us to indulge in all sorts of secret human desires. We don't have to be polite; we can be as rude and nasty as we want; we can snipe and backbite. We can say the things we're afraid to say in public. That's the beauty of anonymity; so many of us have things to say, but a major roadblock is having those words stuck to us like a nametag. We're able to be braver, both in good and bad ways, with the help of anonymity.

2. The lure of ephemerality. The other thing that makes services like Snapchat feel safer is their promise that messages and photos won't last. It encourages us to be bolder when we know the image or words will fade with time; it assures us that no matter what mistakes we make, time will forgive us. That, again, can push us to both the best and worst of our nature. If the consequences of our actions are only short-lived, it's far easier to say what we really mean -- or to say the ugliest thing we can think of just for the sheer excitement of it.

3. We love gossip. Let's face it; no matter who you are, if you're human, you like gossip at least a little bit. Did she really --? Did he really? What did they say when they were at the party? And do you know what happened next? No matter how much you scorn gossip as lesser entertainment, it is still objectively entertaining. As human beings, we are endlessly nosy and curious creatures. It's what makes us capable of learning and insight, after all; it is the uncurious who never learn or step outside the small sphere of their own knowledge. So in a funny way, gossip can be both good and bad, just like all these other very human impulses.

4. We want a voice. As young people, it can be hard to find a space to give our opinions. We don't control where we live or where we go to school or what we're required to do. It can be so hard to not have a space to hear your own voice. The magic of online sharing services like Snapchat and YikYak are that they give us that experience. They let us have a voice and say whatever we want. That, again, is tapping into a very human impulse: the creative impulse. We want to speak, to communicate, and to tell a story. We want to make something, and we want that something to be unique. So it's no surprise that sharing services are so wildly popular; they are giving us an opportunity to be our best selves, which are creative selves. As with all these other very human traits, it can encourage us to be our worst selves, too. It can cause us to spout cliches or trendy phrases just in the urge to find popularity. It can cause us to be the opposite of creative. And still taps into that creative instinct. Services like YikYak and Snapchat may have already taken over the world, because they're allowing us to be exactly what we want to be: human, warts and all.