A story about information and memory

This is a story that I have encountered myself. I wrote about it in my journal, but for reasons that should be clear when reading this, the public version will be censored somewhat. However, it is not necessary to tell the story.

The article was written starting from 2022-07-26 until 2022-08-21.


Almost ten years ago now, and perhaps a little more, there once was someone who decided to troll the Internet a little bit (ostensibly pretending to, at least) to turn into a Homestuck troll by dying the skin grey, sticking protrusions atop the head, &c.. It certainly got a lot of attention at least, and a lot of the reactions are packaged up as screenshots and sent around everywhere from the native land where the troll occurred, DeviantArt, to various other places where I frequent. In this case, I saw it first on Tumblr.

Now as was and still is custom, basically everyone's names are obliterated using black pen – you know, because privacy and so on. But the content of the text is already enough or a Google to nail down where it came from and who wrote it, and a curious teenager who knows how to type text and the double quote mark can easily access this secret forbidden information, sealed by an inky void of jerky mouse wiggles in a paint program. And so I did, and I created an alternate screenshot wsuite with the names untouched, and I left it at that.

It should be noted at this point that the names censored in the images are usernames, so they essentially contain nil identifiable information – this was the age when people still in general guard their personal data seriously, and don't paste their ("real") name and face online (a fact that we'll explore a little bit later). So actually, the names are actually interesting and not vanilla confusables, and in some way reflect or at least suggest given some individual prejudice, an expression of their owners' selves. So they do stick around, as we'll get to later.

Wit the troll later on doing the "it's not serious, it's just a social experiment" shtick, her story's come to an end and everyone moves on. But the effort I expended in getting those uncensored screenshot sticks to me, and makes it somewhat more memorable than it should be. Even still, as the years roll by, this tiny wave in everyone's personal histories fade into the noise of

time, and we all generally get on with our lives.


Now more than a decade later, my brain has decided to bring up this random memory again for no discernible reason. "hey, remember that time when all those people were reacting to that girl who wanted to become a Troll?" it seems to ask. "They do have funny names, do they?"

"What?" I asked myself. "Like?"

"There's this one called ⸺⸺."

"Well that is funny".

"Why don't you have a look at the unit* behind this name? How the public output can inform that choice?"

"You're making no sense but I'm curious. Let's go". And I went back to DeviantArt to see how things have developed.

It turns out that, perhaps unsurprisingly, that the owner of the account has long since vacated it, perhaps half a decade ago. The pictures she drew were still there, and the avatar has changed but is still recognisably from the same hand. However, one of the journal entries did point me to some Instagram accounts. It concludes with her saying something along the lines of "I haven't used this for a while but you should check me out at @⸺⸺ I'm a queen (sparkle emoji)." So I did.

What happened next very much surprised me, though I didn't know what I was expecting: a whole wall of selfies, and also an alt or art account. Apparently the artist has upgraded from pleasant if somewhat amateur drawings to, well, editing photos so the faces are now arses. A little unusual but it is a style and so there's nothing really objectionable about it.

What really surprised me is the fact that both accounts now show her "real" name, presumably in part due to Instagram's (Facebook's) real name rules: I was greeted immediately to "A⸺⸺ A⸺⸺" without so much as asking. There's a specific feeling that you get when you learn that someone is called differently from what your memory has claimed is the externally accessible name, and it is a different type of name too. It's not pleasant but it's also fairly intriguing, and this is what I was experiencing then.

​* "Unit" is short for "unit-in-society". Basically it's just a term for any particular entity that participates in society, with the only thing known is that it is an object with a magnitude of one, like "unity". This term is selected mostly to become maximally inclusive and "get ahead of the curve", as it were.


Now we have reached the present day, let's reflect on a few facts that have appeared in this event.

First, people really are now more likely to reveal their real, or otherwise government-official, names with just minimal friction, even if they were smart enough to conceal them in the past, and presumably have been taught to do so by the relevant authorities, who have in general ignored their own advice – possibly a reason why the rule appears to be entirely abandoned in more recent times, though Facebook is also a part of it. I have specific difficulties with such names, and much prefer it when usernames were the norm – more unique, easier to handle, and in most cases endogenous but in any case descriptive and named after some salient part of its holder's life, even if filter under reams of obscure personality filters – so a "real name" is genuinely shocking and to some extent forbidden knowledge. It doesn't help that this taboo is enforced through a large portion of my formative years, which in term feeds back to my specific difficulties.

Second, and following on that, the idea of names really is quite fascinating. Using just a bunch of sounds one can select an entity out of a large pile of other entities. That's most of language really but names are particularly special. This almost-magical property is further reinforced by common exhortations to hide them, which caused the paint program scribbles which was the impetus behind this entire thing in the first place.

Third, this extremely inconsequential conversation, ceratinly forgotten by both participants, has somehow picked up residence in my own memories. Presumably both the troll and the artist have simply moved on, with the latter having certainly done. This isn't at all a new thing: overheard conversations stick all the time. It's just expressed differently a little bit this time.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway here is that the had the name be allowed to let stand in the original set of screenshots, I too would have consigned it to the sands of time. It was solely because of the black scribbles that gave me enough motivation to remember. There is a lesson in there, but you will have to figure it out by yourself, there's so many.

🗼 gemini://isoraqathedh.pollux.casa/names.gmi