The short story, The Secret Women, explores how anonymity creates a paradox of connection: it allows people to disconnect from others (on a personal level) and to connect with a larger group of people at the same time. In the story, a man and his wife attend the same party in secret from each other. They go to the party in costumes so that they can be anonymous and disconnected from their personal lives. At the party, people are engaging in intimate physical acts, however, since everyone is in costume, no one has any real love for eachother; the hooking up is all surface level. The narrator of the story describes the way that the man’s wife feels after hooking up with someone:
She was going to leave the next moment, wander about once more, collect some other passer-by, forget him, and simply enjoy, until she felt tired and went back home…(Collette 331)
Although the anonymity of the party shields the guests from true intimacy, it allows them to express hidden aspects of themselves and their desires. The narrator adds that the wife felt the “monstrous pleasure of being alone, free, honest and crude, native state of being the unknown woman” (Collette 331).
The paradox of connection in the story is similar to what happens in the realm of the internet. Recently, I read part of a book by social media scholar Sherry Turkle, called “Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other.” In the book, Turkle makes the argument that the anonymity of the internet has made people think that they are more connected, yet, when it comes down to friendships and meaningful relationships, people are less connected. She writes,
Digital connections and the sociable robot may offer the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship. Our networked life allows us to hide from each other, even as we are tethered to each other.(Turkle 1)
This alludes to experiences of anonymity in the Secret Woman of being alone and free while at the same time interacting with many different people. This poses an interesting question: is it possible to be our true selves on the internet and/or is it possible to be our true selves with our most personal friends and partners in real life?
Colette. The Secret Woman. Date unknown.
Turkle, Sherry. Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. Basic Books, New York, 2011.