Weird Assumption… Or Is It?

Tonight someone left a comment on my website, anonymously. The person simply left a letter in the space where a name or handle would go.

Now, perhaps it was just circumstance, the name being the initial of at least one person I am not really friends with anymore. It may also be what I think I recognize as a kind of conversational tic from that same person. Whatever it is, all I know is that I assumed the anonymous poster was someone I know. And yet in my response post, I behaved as if I didn’t know the person.

This, I think, is fascinating. It tells me a lot about the way I (and perhaps humans in general) infer about other people, and how we engage in interactions which can, on a certain level, be compared with other forms of “gameplay”. I’m thinking that a brief look at both of these might be in order.

Firstly, the assumption that I know the person. This is difficult to explain. The reason is, the way I feel an urge to tell the story is this way: “I knew it was so-and-so the moment I saw the comment.” Now, it may well be that this lingering intuition is correct, after all, but the thing is, it was not the first and only intuition. Before that came another one, which was this: if someone is posting comments anonymously, and it’s not a spambot, then it must be someone I know personally. Why this should be so, I’m not exactly sure, but logically I suppose it doesn’t make sense for a stranger to comment anonymously. With a stranger, the anonymity (which is not only implicit in the comment, but outright declared) would be unnecessary, because after all I don’t know the person to begin with. Anonymity in this context doesn’t make sense with a stranger, not anywhere near as much as it would with someone I know personally, however vaguely. Could it be that what was triggered was some primal social instinct? I imagine it isn’t too far fetched to consider it possible. I would certainly imagine that suspicion, however idle, about the commenter’s desire for anonymity probably led to a rapid parsing for possible identities, whereby I would have gained the suspicion of the anonymous poster being a specific person I know.

The second point is interesting too. If I had a strong suspicion about the motivation for the commenter’s anonymity, why did I play along as if I didn’t know the person? This, it seems to me, leads me back to the comment made by Merlin Donald in A Mind So Rare, the book about consciousness and neurology that I’m reading now. Donald points out that we humans are quite comfortable with our intersubjectivity… meaning the way that we interpret subjectively the actions and expressions of others and then, from within our own subjective viewpoints, express our interpretations with what are linguistically objective-appearing statements. Except that as humans over a certain age of normal brain development (I think it was age 7 or so) we all somehow also understand that these statements are intersubjective.

Meaning that even if I think I know the anonymous poster’s reasons for being anonymous, there’s a part of me that hedges bets that I may be wrong, and that treating my own subjective response to the stimulus is socially risky for a number of reasons: it could lend me an air of paranoia and instability (rendering me a possibly unreliable ally), or if it’s simply a mistaken intuition, it could drive away a stranger of potentially good will—a potential ally—. It seems to me that there’s a rather sophisticated kind of social gameplay involved in this interaction, one that, while it might be impossible in the kinds of environments we humans evolved in, still reflects the kinds of social interactions we were, during our long evolution, programmed for.

Right, this self-analysis is now over. But… I am curious to know if I’m right about the anonymous poster’s identity.

4 thoughts on “Weird Assumption… Or Is It?

  1. Hello again. It was I who posted the comment anonymously. No you do not know me. Why did I post anonymously? Well, to tell you the truth, I am not sure, but in the past when I have done it otherwise I start receiving unwanted e-mail which I do not appreciate. However, seeing that you have a comments section, you do not appear to be adverse to receiving e-mail and I therefore wanted to let you know that I appreciated your site and writing. I was not worried that you would reply to my comment. It is from other readers of other web sites that I have gotten unwanted e-mails and therefore I never provide e-mail addresses or name any more. I apologize if this caused you any distress and you should not get paranoid about it as I have (smile). Again, I do like your site and will continue to read occasionally. I think your insight into some aspects of life is interesting. Again, thanks.


  2. Hey, no worries about the anonymity: I understand not wanting damnable mail from people one doesn’t know, who are hassling one about a disagreement of points based on one little comment left at someone else’s site…

    I really don’t mind anonymous comments-posting, I just thought that my first instinctual behaviour in reaction to it was interesting and perhaps potentially suggestive of certain things about human social instincts and so on.

    Thanks for your kind comments and for reading!

  3. Thought your post on the assumptions you had formed concerning my anonymous posting was intriguing. It was interesting reading your thought pattern on it and considering the interaction between the two postings; mine and then yours. I had not considered the reaction to my anonymous posting on the receipted before. I wonder how others have reacted or if they have reacted in the same way upon recite of an anonymous post, but just have not followed through with a detailed analysis of their feelings to it. Of course, one of the items that appeared to start your change reaction as you indicated was the fact that I utilized the letter “g” as a signature since you have had a past acquaintance whose name began with that letter. That was just an unplanned coincidence in this interaction, after all many people do utilize something truly related to their real names when selecting an alias – easy of remembering – not sure why. Others receiving such an anonymous posting which is not signed by a recognizable or associated connection might not have the same reaction. Well, anyway, it was interesting seeing your thought pattern on this.


  4. It’s a faacinating area, human social interactions, and when you add interesting technological buffers it gets even more interesting. Ah, humans. We are a fascinating, if also sometimes maddening, bunch.

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