In his autobiographical Permanent Record, Edward Snowden’s joy in the freewheeling, anarchic Internet of the 1990s strikes a surprising chord. Born earlier and no techie, I recall the same youthful thrill of trying on different selves where nobody knew who I was.
In summer camps far from home, I could play at being whoever I wished and none of it would follow me home. Going out of state for college allowed another fresh start. We students were all exploring, testing ideas by trial and error, with no shame in saying something stupid one day and rescinding it the next. In my twenties, moves every year or two offered a series of chances to reinvent. Only my immediate family gave continuity, and they didn’t try to box me in.
Though by my thirties I found relationships in community at least as liberating as serial anonymity, later life events renewed the freedom—and the need—to recreate who I wanted to be.
Isn’t this the best of both worlds? A few close kith or kin who not only know you deeply, but also encourage you to experiment, change, and grow.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.