As the editor of a local newspaper I sometimes get phone calls from people who don't want to tell me their names but would like me to use my access to print to further their personal vendettas.
At the Sun we are usually very generous with our ink. We like to enable the citizens of our community to speak their minds on our pages.
However, when someone is unwilling to tell me who he or she is, I am immediately suspicious.
This is a small town. People know each other. And I understand that sometimes there are instances when withholding a name from print is acceptable. In fact, often if someone tells me his or her name and asks me to withhold it, I will.
But, completely anonymous letters and phone calls never impressed myself or my colleagues into taking up a cause. A letter that arrives with no signature or return address will be summarily thrown in the trash. A caller who refuses to tell me her name will always get the same response. "Okay, if you want to write me a letter and sign it we will consider printing it. Thanks!" Click.
Last time I checked, Grove was smack in the middle of the United States and in our great country people are allowed to say what they think without fear of prison or execution.
It has been my experience that when someone wants to tell me something anonymously it is usually something vicious and unsavory that cannot be proven.
People who have facts and good intentions never hesitate to identify themselves.
Of course, there are always notable exceptions. The informant who exposed the Watergate scandal is one that comes to mind – blowing the whistle on that took real courage. However, I would point out that "Deep Throat" did have proof on his side.
It never ceases to astonish me that there are so many people in the world who mistake their own opinions for fact and become incensed when other people want some actual corroboration.
Hiding is the provenance of the guilty and the frightened.
If a person feels the need to hide, it might be wise for him to do a little soul-searching and find out what he feels guilty or frightened about.
If a person is afraid he might be killed by a paid assassin because he is telling the press about a high ranking official's illegal activities, well, all right, that might be a legitimate concern.
However, if a person wants to hide while spouting hateful accusations at fellow community members, I say come out in the open and say that or be quiet.
It is really hard to see in the dark. Stepping into the light may be uncomfortable, but it is the quickest way to know what's true.
Having opinions and standing by them in public is not always comfortable – but what are your opinions and observations really worth if you won't own them?
The growing impossibility of anonymity in the digital world
Of course, it is possible to go overboard in the other direction.
My family, which has the blessing and misfortune of being spread all over the North American continent, recently discovered the convenient and cost-free world of video chats.
I was the last person in my immediate family to get a web cam. I hooked it up last night and immediately had calls from all over the country.
As I write this, a peculiar chrome-encrusted eye is staring at me from the top of my monitor.
I don't think anyone can see me when the indicator light isn't on, but I'll admit I'm not quite accustomed to it yet. I expose my thoughts every Friday in print, but don't know what sort of faces I make when I'm concentrating on the keyboard. Some things really should be kept private.
A few years ago I remarked to a friend who was watching the Jerry Springer Show that our generation has been permanently warped by television. How else can you explain the eagerness of so many to expose their rampant and perverse dysfunction to a studio audience and millions of viewers?
I am perfectly happy not knowing what people do in their bedrooms, living rooms and back yards.
Since we can't all be on TV, we have simply gotten our own smaller versions: Facebook, Twitter, vidcasts . . . video chats. Everybody wants to be a star and these days all it takes is a camera pointed at them.
Nonetheless, I will say that if you get a chance to get a web cam and "Skype" your friends and relatives, do it. It really is a fun way to communicate, especially with people you don't get to see very often.
Also, look for my new vidcast coming to a computer screen near you. Seriously.