Edward Snowden’s Permanent Record was interesting for a number of reasons, but the one I want to mention here and now is this: early on in the book, Snowden talks about ideas he expressed on the internet as a teen. He goes on to say that we shouldn’t be penalised in the present (or the future) for ideas we’ve held or expressed in the past.
As far as I can tell, he doesn’t mean we should be excused for rabid racism or tenacious discrimination. His point is that we have, first, the right to be ignorant, and second, the right to leave said ignorance behind. But in a climate void of anonymity, where everyone knows who you are and everyone can find out what you’ve said, our expression and thus our growth is inhibited, stuck in a state of fearful stasis.
Around the same time I was reading Snowden’s book, I also read Aaron Z. Lewis’ post on Ribbonfarm: Being Your Selves. It contains the following passage:
“Much like our IRL social selves, an alt truly comes alive when it’s seen by others. Twitter is a type of echolocation — you learn about who you’re becoming from the followers and replies that bounce back to you. I often see alt accounts asking some version of the question “what’s my brand/vibe?” Without any strategy or forethought, you end up with an indescribable sense of “where you are” in cyberspace by paying attention to who and what shows up in your notifications. There’s a mysterious quality to it all. The algorithm seems to route tweets to the very people who will understand what the hell you’re talking about. You think you’re typing inside jokes to yourself, but it almost always turns out that there are others out there who get you. The more I shared my unfiltered ideas, the more ideas I started having. My random posts sparked thoughtful responses that sent me down months-long research rabbit holes and inspired several substantial writing projects. As @chaosprime — a popular alt — once said, “Cognition is not a discrete process taking place inside your head. It isn’t even a discrete process taking place inside your body. It’s a web extending everywhere, with dense nodes pulling it this way and that, synchronizing and desynchronizing, making models of each other.” My alt account quickly became part of my cognitive ecology, my extended mind.”
The aforementioned extension of self got me thinking…
(SPOILER ALERT) In the Harry Potter series, Voldemort uses a device called a horcrux to store a fragment of his soul. The purpose is to stave off mortality. By splitting his soul, Voldemort ensures he doesn’t have a single point of failure. But what if, by utilising alts, it were possible to do the opposite? Instead of dividing our soul, can we multiply it?
An alt, to be born, requires a sliver of the self. But that sliver, despite starting as a part of our self, can become its own whole. What if, rather like Voldy, we create more than one alt? Say we create seven alts to match Voldy’s seven horcruxes, and they all grow at a similar pace? Further, because those alts remain tethered to the original whole, does the growth in a peripheral node return to the centre? The answer–I think–is, yes. Growth in one node leaks to every other. But then, so does everything else. And this creates a weird dynamic…
In security, an “attack surface of a software environment is the sum of the different points (the “attack vectors”) where an unauthorized user (the “attacker”) can try to enter data to or extract data from an environment. Keeping the attack surface as small as possible is a basic security measure.” The more alts a person has, the greater their attack surface. However, another basic security measure is compartmentalisation: “the limiting of access to information to persons or other entities on a need-to-know basis to perform certain tasks.” The more alts a person has, the more compartmentalised they are.
To me, the conclusion is obvious: the possible gain from one or more alts outweighs the risk. Which clarifies the next action, too: alt it up.