Behind The Mask

Posted on 23rd August 2009

Last week it was noted that Why The Lucky Stiff had disappeared from the internet. There have been several thoughts regarding his disappearance, and some very strong reactions too. It strikes as very odd that rather than concern for someone, several have resorted to anger and made matters worse by now digging deeper into his personal life.

While I don't know _why, and I'm not part of the Ruby community, I have been aware of him and even read his Poignant Guide some time ago. He came across as a very creative and interesting character and I'm sure he was a credit to the Ruby community. He appears to have written alot of interesting code and been very good at promoting Ruby, both online and at conferences. So to me it seems strange to read some the "investigation" work going to try and understand why he has disappeared.

Some have suggested something serious has happened, and perhaps he had implemented a Dead Man's Switch, while others have summised that with having his birth name "outed" publicly recently, he just felt the intrusion into his personal life was too much. Whatever has happened I think it's sad that there seems to be lots of negative reaction to the situation. Of all the comments and articles I've read, only John Resig's Eulogy to _why seems to be in anyway a thought provoking hope that all is well the person.

Several people believe that he has taken it as a personal insult that someone has decided to research his birth name, and then publish it publicly. Whether this is true or not, I don't know, but it did make me think about how people treat those of us with an unusual online identity, that we happen to use in person too. One person struck as rather insensitive, as he acknowledged that after discovering something about _why's personal life, _why had asked him to keep it private. With the current wave of discussion, that person saw fit to announce it to the world, so they could show a bit of one-up-manship.

In all the time I've known of him, I've only ever known _why by his pen name, and like many others have never felt the need to know his birth name. In the Perl community there are three prominent characters to use an unusual identity both online and in person. chromatic, Abigail and myself. While I've been told the birth names of chromatic and Abigail, I've long since forgotten them as to me their pen names are who they what to be identified as. For myself, I've never gone to great lengths to hide my name, but my pen name is how I prefer to be known. My birth name is for my family (although even some of them refer to me as Barbie) and the tax man.

Once I sent a mail from a work account that included my birth name, to a friend in the Perl community. I received a reply asking if I could send from my personal account in future, as seeing my birth name had confused the hell out of the recipient and took a little while to suddenly realise it was me :) Another friend on discovering my birth name by way of a slip up online, felt the need to alert me, so that i could hide it. It seems some people actually quite like me having an unusual identity.

My pen name actually came about back in 1983, long before I ever got to use the internet, and was extremely useful when I was a Roadie. People remember an unusual name, and I know for a fact that I got asked to crew several gigs because tour managers and the like remembered me by name. I'd like to think it was also that I did a good job too, but that first impression of being introduced as Barbie was rarely forgotten. In all that time I was a roadie (1984-2005), no-one ever really put any effort to discovering my birth name. Some asked, but many more have been more interested in how I got to be named Barbie. Occasionally I've explained that it is my birth name and that my parents were rather eccentric. Amusingly some have even believed that.

However, Barbie is very much my public identity, and that's something that I'd rather keep. It has some very positive benefits for me, as it has helped me to get several jobs, and has often been a good introduction for some. My private life is not something I write about a lot, mostly because it's private. I talk about Dan, Ethne and Nicole from time to time as they are part of who I am, though others guard even that part of their life very carefully. In _why's case, this was something that he didn't seem to want to promote, at least not in the context of his _why persona. Respecting someone's privacy should be an obvious thing for any human to understand, though sadly there are some that feel that no-one has a right to a private life.

Does discovering someone's birth name really make any difference to how you see that person? The only reason I can see for anyone making something like that public, against the wishes of the individual, is to begin a character assassination. As I see it, _why may well have therefore taken steps to ensure that if people cannot respect his privacy, then why should he respect what they think about all he has given them. To some it is a tantrum, to me is purely about having had enough with the world that the persona of Why The Luck Stiff touched, and wanting to walk away completely and utterly, leaving no trace that it ever existed.

As I say at the beginning, I don't know the reasons for the disappearance, but I do hope that the person behind the persona is okay.

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