True Names cover illustration by Bob Walters; Mask and background image by Lucho Poletti

True Names Not Required

On Identity and Pseudonymity in Cyberspace

Discovering Bitcoin and plugging yourself into #BitcoinTwitter (original illustrations by Bob Walters)
Turning away from a sea of shitcoins.
Early training for the great meme wars of the future.

“Privacy is necessary for an open society in the electronic age. Privacy is not secrecy. A private matter is something one doesn’t want the whole world to know, but a secret matter is something one doesn’t want anybody to know. Privacy is the power to selectively reveal oneself to the world.” — Eric Hughes

The distinction between complete anonymity and pseudonymity is an important one: anonymity does away with identity completely. Pseudonymity allows for temporary identities. You might be a space cat, a wizard, a Japanese programmer, a Shaolin, a Samourai, a dragon lord, or a nocturnal Octopus who does magic at midnight. Pseudonyms allow you to build up a character, a reputation, a self-image of your choosing. Complete anonymity is crucial as well. It allows you to speak freely, unencumbered from reputational loss, disconnected from your identity — constructed or not.

“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” — Oscar Wilde

History has shown that in society in general, and in Bitcoin in particular, you don’t necessarily need to use your legal name to be recognized or taken seriously. There is a reason why Eric Arthur Blair didn’t choose to publish his books under his True Name, but use a pseudonym: George Orwell. Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum probably had her reasons too — she published her novels as Ayn Rand. Similarly, Satoshi Nakamoto had good reasons to stay pseudonymous and not use his True Name. He chose to protect his identity so he could eventually remove himself from the picture, leaving Bitcoin without a leader and a creator. A gift from the gods, if you will.

Original artwork by Lucho Poletti

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