Walking home from the downtown Oakland BART station a couple weeks ago I passed a young man standing on a street corner next to his bike. He was dressed all in black, and wearing a Guy Fawkes mask. Kind of like this guy:
I was freaked out and even vaguely offended by the mask, which seemed a bit hypocritical of me. I’m a big supporter of masks  of a sort online: the use of pseudonyms, multiple identities, and some forms of anonymity — and here was a guy wearing a mask linked to a group actually called Anonymous. So why was his ‘real life’ mask disturbing? In a chapter from Communities in Cyberspace, Judith Donath observes:
In the physical world there is an inherent unity to the self, for the body provides a compelling and convenient definition of identity. The norm is: one body, one identity. Though the self may be complex and mutable over time and circumstance, the body provides a stabilizing anchor… The virtual world is different. 
Maybe I was freaked out by an implicit violation of the body as “stabilizing anchor” in the physical world?
But there are so many forms of media that extend people beyond their bodies. People write books (sometimes under pseudonyms), circulate tales through oral traditions, and are captured on audio and video and in photographs.
There’s something unsettling about not being able to see someone’s face, though.
My reaction to the guy in the mask reminded of Google+ Chief Architect Yonatan Zunger’s recent comments on a change in Google+’s policy on pseudonyms. Following several months of backlash (#nymwars) against the lockout of G+ users suspected of using names they aren’t commonly addressed by in the “real” world, the policy was modified to prohibit names that aren’t “name-shaped”. Pseudonyms are acceptable, but the nym has to look like a “real name” (or “wallet name,” i.e., a name on official identification in your wallet) to Google .
Yunger explained this policy as an attempt to avoid “culture clashes,” writing:
Generally, if you know at least one person who has an unusual name, you’re likely to know a lot of such people; i.e., people with unusual names travel in tightly-connected clusters. That’s largely because these names tend to be tied to particular subcultures. The problem we’re really encountering here is of culture clashes: people from one culture absolutely freak out when they encounter people from a very alien culture.