Anonymity is a wonderful thing. Public Anonymity is an even more wonderful thing. Personally Identified Public Anonymity is the best thing of all.

Anonymity means no one knows who you are, so you can get away with everything with no repercussions. The down side is, of course, that nobody knows who you are so even when you get away with something, you are not getting away with anything. Anonymity means you can screw up anything because there is always someone out there who’ll believe anything you say. Any Yahoo! message board is proof of that.

The next step is Public Anonymity. In this case, you are you, only you’re talking to an audience who wouldn’t know you from Adam (or his Ants) so you can still say pretty much anything you want to but now you get the credit and the blame for what you say. There is still a great deal of leeway regarding the kinds of statements you make, and you can pretty much talk about your friends, family and co-workers without the worry of lying about all those things you dislike about them, or your job, or your love life, or anything else because you’re discussing it all with strangers who find it all somewhat interesting and/or humorous, but don’t really care very much one way or the other.

Personally Identified Public Anonymity, or PIPA, is where your worlds collide. It is the ability to announce your feelings, emotions, opinions and far-out unreasoned theories to an unknowing public as yourself, but you are, in fact, no one. Except you’re someone because you’re identifiable. In the Celebrity Sense, of course, which is the only sense that counts in this modren life, you don’t even show up on the radar. So you still get away with making outlandish claims, silly observations and citing completely unfounded facts in pursuit of completing your argument because you aren’t famous, you aren’t learned, you aren’t fabulously wealthy or drop-dead gorgeous. You’re you.

But everyone knows who you are. You’re you.

Thing Becoming

If you set out to become a thing, which PIPA is in a sense, you’ll probably fail. This is because you may be trying too hard, or trying to meet the expectations of a fickle public who grows tired of anything very quickly. In fact, the more popular a thing is, the quicker the burn-out.

Even that, you cannot consider in PIPA. If you start worrying about things like whether or not people are still interested in you, consider yourself passé. Hang it up, kid, your time is through.

Unless, of course, out of spite, you just keep going anyway and then you might have some latent so-passé-you’re-cool-again potential, but that only lasts a short time, again, and then you’re really and truly dead in the water. No one comes back from that. Look at Genesis or The Traveling Wilburys if you have any doubts.

But that’s actually a bad example, because PIPA’s main—possibly only—environment for growth is right here on the Web. Because nowhere else is there such a richly fertilized breeding ground as out here where you can build to suit, erecting huge, sprawling homes for your voice and talents, assuming you have any at all, that would make Bill Gates’s lakeside retreat look like a cardboard box on Market Street.

Even so, PIPA comes around slowly, and it is a hungry and oftimes evil master. It demands much and offers very little in return. Yet if you look around only a little, you’ll see people everywhere wanting a piece of PIPA, needing it, doing all in their power to possess it.

But is PIPA worth it? After struggling to erect your palace and outfitting it with your thoughts and dreams and opinions, after painting the walls with day-glo latex flat and putting the Eames in the corner and placing your prized Breen on the wall next to the exit, is PIPA all it’s cracked up to be?

Namely, Me

Some people consider Lance Arthur an aficionado of the PIPA lifestyle. And since I am he, as far as you know, I suppose I am in as good a position as anyone else to tell you whether or pursuit of this goal worthwhile. And like any goal, you need to ask yourself a few questions about why, indeed, you want PIPA.

I should imagine that you must have some preconceived notions that PIPA is some great, hulking beastie that brings you fame and fortune, and I’d like to dissuade you of that little lie right away. It doesn’t. If there is fame attached to PIPA, I’ve never seen it in action. I can walk the streets fairly unaccosted by fans slobbering all over me for a piece of code or a Photoshopped image. It’s been literally months since I can remember anyone even asking if I was, in fact, Lance Arthur, and in that instance he was a waiter who couldn’t believe I could be outfitted with such an obviously fake name. Lance Arthur, indeed. What sort of name is that? Sounds like a soap opera character, which I look nothing in the least like. My pecs might bulge, but they also sag.

Which brings us to fortune. Now, fortune has nothing at all to do with fame. The one does not follow the other as if joined at the hip. Rather, one normally achieves one on purpose and the other by accident. If anyone is setting out to be famous, run away from them as quickly as your little virtual legs will carry you. That person is sick in the head and/or Madonna, which amounts to the same thing or so I am told, having never met Madonna except in passing and in that instance she only stared at me before her bodyguard shoved me into someone’s cream cheese aperitif at an art studio.

Fame is a sickness, a disease, something which no right-minded person would ever seek, which is why we see that parade of genetic mutants on Jerry Springer flaunting their abnormalities for just a moment’s notice by the all-seeing television camera. Fame swallows you whole and eats you alive. It is a monster whipped forward by a bored public and an empty-headed media and succeeds in doing nothing at all very well. Pretty people should be famous so we can look at them, then they should go away when they start thinking we want to hear them talk. Kim Bassinger comes to mind.

Fortune, on the other hand, is actually very easy to get. It just takes selling your soul and giving in to the basest greed, the most heinous form of back-stabbing and destruction and the choice that nothing else, nothing else at all matters except the acquisition of more wealth. You may often make a choice not to cheat on your taxes, while rich, fat corporations do it every day. Maybe you decide not to throw that chlorine down the drain just to get rid of it, but people with much less fortitude than you are more than willing to toxify the entire planet in order to avoid paying to have it cleaned up correctly.

See? Fortune is easy. You simply decide that nothing else in your life is more important than money. It will come to you, because other people with more morals (at least in their own minds) will pay you to get rid of their problems and you’ll do it and charge them a king’s ransom as long as they never have to hear how you got rid of their problems for them.

Which brings us back to the question of what it is you want from PIPA. If not fame nor fortune, then that only leave sex, admiration (which is not the same as fame at all) or disappointment.

Getting Some

Sex — This will not happen. It takes only the merest glance around the Web to see that all anyone ever seems to talk about is how they aren’t getting any. No sex, from no one, no how. They want sex, sure enough. They go into detail even whom they want sex with (or from) and how they want it and how often. If they aren’t talking about sex, then they’re either getting their government mandated average daily allowance, or they don’t care to discuss it with you, thanks ever so much for asking.

Admiration — This comes in many forms. People can admire you because you’re funny, or smart, or good looking, or any combination thereof. Those are the big three, and PIPA doesn’t make you funnier, smarter or better looking so the admiration you already receive, justified or not, isn’t likely to increase. Now, I’ll admit that if you manage to gain an audience, for lack of a better word (I’m not sure that “audience” is correct because you never see them and they never offer any money and the applause is sparse at best) you might feel like your level of admiration has gone up. But you’ll soon find out that the admiration you’re really seeking is the same admiration you were seeking all along anyway, that of the people who know and love you already. And since they love you already, hello? Forget admiration.

Disappointment — Here’s one aspect of PIPA you’ll see, and no doubt about that. It will come to you sooner or later in various forms and you’ll deal with it either by giving in to it and stopping whatever it was you were doing on your path to PIPA, even if that something was making you happy and satisfied regardless of whether anyone else was ever paying attention. Disappointment may show up on your doorstep when something you put up that you thought would get a huge reaction doesn’t get any at all, in which case I would put forth the suggestion that you were doing that for the wrong reason entirely. It may rear its head when you get your first negative email message which informs you in no uncertain terms what a pathetic loser you are and why don’t you go back to whatever filth-encrusted body cavity you crawled out of? You may want to give in to the big D right there, on the basis of one person’s opinion even in the face of mountains of positive words you otherwise get.

And doing that would be stupid, you cretinous moron, and I’d hate you forever for being such a spineless little freak with absolutely no sense of style, you ignorant fuck.

Then What?

So now we’re down to it, aren’t we just? We’re down to your reason for being. You contemplate your Web existence in little pieces of recognition. Why aren’t people reading what you write? Why aren’t you connecting with your audience? Why do you ceaselessly toil in utter anonymity doing all that cool, smart, funny, touching stuff you’re doing if no one else cares? Where, in short, is your PIPA?

It’s not coming. It will never come. And even if it does, what I hope I’ve taught you in my own rambling, senseless prose is that what really doesn’t matter is that no one is watching you. What matters is that you’re trying. What matters is that you have a voice, no matter how small, no matter how quiet. You have a voice to say what you think, what you feel, how you are and why you’re living.

Why do you get up every day? Why don’t you just hang it all up? What is it that makes you pull your feet from under those warm covers and plant them on the floor and sit yourself up and amble over to the computer and start making something? What are you trying to say? What is the one thing that makes it all worthwhile? How far are you willing to go?

September 28, 2000

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