The Anonymous Self

The classified ad read, "I am the man of your dreams. I love late night walks under star-filled skies." The ad ended by asking, "Are you the woman of my dreams? E-mail me soon, and let me touch your heart!" Welcome to classified advertising in cyberspace. As with the notorious singles bars of the 1970s and 80s, you never know what you’re really getting. In cyberspace, people are known only by their log-on names—and they often adapt various on-line personas: completely fabricated names and personalities. In other words, what used to be called schizoid behavior is considered standard fare in cyberspace. In fact, pretending to be someone else is part of the attraction. Nobody knows what you look like, whether you’re a man or a woman, how old you are, or where you live. You can present yourself as a beautiful blonde woman, a priest, an Olympic athlete, or a child—even if you’re none of these things. On-line junkies can even pretend to be the opposite sex in so-called "chat rooms" where people converse via their keyboards—sometimes in sexually graphic terms. MIT scientist Sherry Turkle describes this proliferation of identities in her new book Life on the Screen. Turkle argues that technology is rendering obsolete the belief in a single unified self. One’s personality becomes whatever one chooses to make it. As Turkle puts it, cyberspace creates "a decentered self that exists in many worlds, that plays many roles at the same time." The amazing thing is that many psychologists are applauding these virtual multiple personalities. It used to be that psychologists helped people find their true selves. People spoke of "getting themselves together." But postmodernism has come to psychology, just as it has permeated the rest of our culture. It is the radical rejection of everything formerly considered to be stable and unchanging—truth, morality, even human nature. Postmodernism teaches that all we are is a collection of the different roles we play in the changing phases of our life. The new breed of postmodern psychologists defines the healthy personality as one that constantly reinvents itself. People who have a stable, consistent personality are not viewed as healthy, but repressed. Since truth is relative, it’s considered neurotic to be tied down to enduring beliefs that give order and stability to your life. What this means is that we may soon be facing a culture where Christians are labeled, by definition, "psychologically unhealthy." Christian churches might even be considered threats to the public health. We need to be ready to argue that real mental health starts with knowing who we are and where we stand in relation to ultimate truth—which is God himself. At the core of our being is a coherent self that God addresses, a self that God calls to respond to him. Cyberspace may give opportunities to lose ourselves in a hall of mirrors—and some people think that’s a good thing. But you may never know whether the person behind the on-line ad really is the man of your dreams, or whether he’s a 13-year-old kid with acne—or even a woman. It goes without saying that Christians ought not to fall for this stuff. Our task is just the opposite. Our task is to bring a message of wholeness to fragmenting souls.


Chuck Colson


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