Anonymity Freaks Me Out

The first and only time I voted was in the 1988 presidential election. I clearly remember walking in that little private wank booth and looking at this strange paper on which I was to mark my selection for this or that candidate. I remember feeling so small, so irrelevant, the process so dehumanizing.I was a nick on a prepopulated page, the same as every other: a nick in a series of identical nicks.

In an effort to overcome my reduction to a number, to reclaim my sense of humanity, I wrote in my choice for president: my grandfather, Isidore Englander. It was reassuring to see my handwritten scrawl on this institutional document and to see a name so close to me, so absolutely idiosyncratic. I was confident that this would be Gramps’ sole vote. This paper would not be one among many; it would be singular.

I never voted again. More than the irrelevance of the act, it’s the demand for anonymity that turns me off. Give me a chance to stand up and voice my opinion, declare my decisions before the masses, and I’d consider voting. But walking into a beaded room bereft of the should-be carnal candy? Eeesh.

I have the same experience when buying things. The exchange of money for goods is prescribed in such a way that seller and consumer need not exchange anything else. This coldness, this reduction of ourselves to mere function, freaks me out. I just can’t do it. I need to have some kind of personal contact — a quick joke, a non-consumer query, a smile,something that acknowledges our respective selves.

Mind you, this is not noble of me. On the contrary, it’s often obnoxious and certainly narcissistic. Some checkout dude at Walgreens shouldn’t have to suffer through my idiotic banter just to help me alleviate my angst.

Breaking personal boundaries is more difficult in the anonymous super stores. These places breed anonymity. Once inside, we become consumers, shopping to some prescribed algorithm. And the employees have no investment whatsoever; they barely acknowledge you. Their only desire is to get out of there as quickly as possible. What do they need, not to mention want, with my anxious interpersonal invasion?

Perhaps there is a freedom to such anonymity. By agreeing that we’re just numbers to each other, we are left alone to do as we will — no need to pass moral, religious, or aesthetic judgement on others. You do your thing; I do my thing. And so it goes. There’s no need for things to get personal.

This is one thing I enjoy about politeness — it allows strangers to be strangers with the least amount of friction. Sometimes, we need things from each other or, in this crowded world, we bump into one another — a simple “excuse me,” “thanks,” or “please” makes the interaction run smoothly.

Still, I have this deep seated desire to break through these barriers, to risk judgement in order to enjoy a whiff of intimacy, however slight. In that moment, there is the possibility of wonder, of the heartfelt and the hilarious, the witty and the surprising.

But that’s not why I do it. My need cannot be justified by anything other than itself: anonymity freaks me out. It’s as though I need the world to recognize me, not just this body, but me. Perhaps if those around me see me as an individual — not as just another customer, consumer, or constituent — then I’ll be better tethered to the earth, less likely to slip into the ether unnoticed.

Ah, yes, this is it: anonymity smacks of death. And, egomaniac narcissist that I am, I believe my individuality will be enough to keep me alive. But only if everyone notices. TC mark


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  • Strife Tech

    This is wonderful. Certainly one of the best things I have read on TC in a good while.

  • WDeanis

    This struck a chord with me, especially your line “By agreeing that we’re just numbers to each other, we are left alone to do as we will.” I’m gay, and it is SO hard to watch headlines pour in daiy about who has a problem with me and my community. On the one hand, my boyfriend an I have been in a near-perfect relationship together for going on 4 years. Personally, I’ve never been discriminated against or bullied, probably because we’re both pretty heteronormative. We go about our lives happily enjoying each others’ companionship. On the other hand, some days I feel absolutely crushed by depression when I see how hard some of my peers struggle day-to-day just for acceptance, not to mention the invective flung our way by groups that just don’t understand. It’s tiring, swinging from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other on a daily basis. Dream of the future with my guy, wonder if I’ll be allowed a future with my guy



  • Logan

    i relate to this but haven’t found any feelings of significance yet

  • Izzy

    I’m really jealous of this mindset. I wish I could feel this way when going into stores or interacting with the cashier. I have social anxiety and it’s very frightening and difficult for me to just open up and talk about anything besides the transaction at hand. I really admire wanting the intimacy and as hard as it is for me, I still try to counter it every day by doing little things like what you do normally. I really enjoyed reading this article :)

  • Annie

    i feel like this sometimes too. mostly when i go into big department stores like Ikea or WalMart. I feel like humans are all robots being force-fed all these products and told every day what to do/think/buy/etc. Something that makes me feel better is shopping at farmers markets or mom ‘n pop stores. The owners of these stores are much more caring about their customers and usually love having conversations. Along with that, cooking for myself instead of buying prepackaged food helps me feel less like I’m just another nick on the world. Great article!

  • Thames

    Not voting is painfully ignorant and irresponsible.  

    • Jake

      This comment is painfully ignorant and irresponsible.

    • Meursault

      If you only got through the first three paragraphs, give the rest of the essay a chance. If you got through the entire essay and only felt attracted to the part about not voting, try rereading the essay over.

      Reading a text as a treasure hunt for the essence of an ‘author’ is so dull. Hey, look! Coffeen isn’t a voter! That guy, him! The one we call Coffeen does not vote! Thus Coffeen is xyz. But really, who is Coffeen?

      At best this Coffeen is just some magic that makes text appear on the internets whom I relate to as a picture of a guy with black glasses and shavedish, baldingish head. But so what? Who is that? Do I know him because I see a picture and read some things he wrote? What if he writes entirely in jest, saying the opposite of what he, the man, the actual guy Coffeen thinks, believes and does? Oh dear.

      I think it’s much more interesting to look at what that section of text on not voting is doing. It’s setting the groundwork for the rest of the essay, an essay that demands one’s individuality be recognized as such and that one demands to say “I am this one! This is what I think!”

      Voting is about having one’s voice, position, whatever counted. It is supposed to be an affirmation of the individual. But we see in the essay that this is a ruse, that an individuating feature of individuality, one’s distinction, is being stripped by anonymity.

      However, I insist on never be taken too seriously, so fart.

  • guestie

    i love anonymity

  • Anonymous

    People  need to read more about democracy! and don’t take my comment personally, cause is just my opinion!

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