Diderot’s maxim may never have been as evident as it is now: “Within us we erected a statue in our image and likeness, idealized, but recognizable in spite of everything, and spent the rest of our lives striving to resemble her.” The quote is collected by Andrew O’Hagan (Glasgow, 1968) in the preface to “The Secret Life” (Anagram, 2020), the book with which the Scottish essayist and writer tries to unmask the phenomenon that leads so many people to take refuge under fake identities in the great carnival that is internet.
O’Hagan begins his essay with a fundamental question: where are the limits that separate the real from the fictitious today? To understand the roots of these “secret lives,” he addresses the figures of Julian Assange and the supposed inventor of bitcoin, and also experiments with creating a fictional character in digital life with a false identity. The thread that unites these three stories is that “custom, very typical of the Internet, of presenting theatrically and hiding at the same time.”
It is, says the author, a new way of presenting himself to the world. Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is a case of manual. In the eyes of his followers, the man who caused the greatest leak of secret documents in history with the “cablegate” is an icon of the struggle for human rights. From inside doors everything is misery.
O’Hagan, who treated Assange for months to write an autobiography that the founder of Wikileaks later insisted on publishing, portrays a character who often behaves like a kid, who treats his defenders as subjects, and describes him as a guy without the slightest self-control, without any sense of the most basic public relations and unable to accept that many of his activities were nothing more than acts of piracy.
“He is not a person who pays attention to details,” says the author of “The Secret Life.” What they like is the overall image and the general struggle. They love noise and glamor, history, show, but not the fine print. After many comings and goings, in a desperate effort to get something out of Assange that could help him with autobiography, O’Hagan confesses he is unable to “baste a voiceover for a real person who was not quite real.”
What is that about living a parallel life? O’Hagan develops it in the second of the stories in his book, in which he takes the name of a deceased boy – Ron Pinn – and builds an invented digital identity. Some robots will manage their social networks, make purchases and bets online and even receive letters from the Tax Agency.
“With his false personality and false friends, Ronnie became a kind of ideal government mole, a supposedly real person who could infiltrate suspicious political groups and markets. It began as a way to test the tendency of the network to radicalize the invention of ourselves, but in the end it turned out that what I controlled was an entity whose contact with reality was the minimum necessary to reconfigure it? ».
The third protagonist of “The Secret Life” is a character halfway between the previous two: Craig Wright, the man who is supposedly behind Satoshi Nakamoto, the creator of the bitcoin. Powered by legal and financial problems, Wright agrees to reveal his real identity. And that, in the world of cryptography, involves transgressing a way of relating based on pseudonyms.
Satoshi is admired by his followers for creating a digital currency and staying hidden in anonymity; they admire him for not being wrong, as if it were a creation myth, for having a personality free of impurities, and not for being an Australian forties. According to this social system, freedom is to use information technology to have a second personality very different from private life.
Hermann Hesse said that there is no more reality than what we have inside, but is it still so? For O’Hagan, now the typical citizen of the 21st century is also defined by his falsehood: “Valuable false identities are built and mobilized and are often simulacra of the true identity of those responsible.” .