Cyberspace-addicted millennials probably don’t realize it, but they are hardly the first generation to become enthralled with instantaneously communicating under fake names.
Remember the CB radio craze of the 1970s?
Citizens’ band radio has been around since 1945, but it really caught fire after OPEC imposed an oil embargo in 1973 and gas prices rose.
The federal government imposed a national 55 mph speed limit that many motorists tried to get around.
Truckers with loads to transport from point A to point B by specific deadlines were especially anxious to move down the highway faster.
Of course, they were equally anxious to avoid getting speeding tickets. So they used CB radios to communicate with each other and find out in advance where law enforcement lay in wait for speeders.
Country music artists scored multiple novelty hit records about the practice, which spread the truckers’ unique CB lingo to the general public.
“Superslab” is the interstate. “Smokey” is a law enforcement officer. “Plain vanilla wrapper” is a white unmarked police car. “County mountie” is a county sheriff’s deputy.
Nicknames for destinations are takeoffs on the qualities for which they were best known or the cities’ official nicknames. Hence, Pittsburgh is the “steel city, Nashville was the “music city,” and so on.
And, as is the case with the Internet, CB users were not Joe, Sam or Louise. They were “Big Mama,” “Fish Bait,” “Free Bird,” “Queen of Hearts,” etc. The pseudonyms are called “handles.”
In its never-ending quest for ratings, TV got in on the act. After all, as Fred Allen famously said, “Imitation is the sincerest form of television.”
Episodes of both sitcoms and dramas featured characters who used CB radio communication as a defense against loneliness, only to become even lonelier when the voice on the other end of the radio tracks them down.
When the lonely CB user is seen to be not as attractive as his or her voice would indicate, the fantasy worlds created in both talkers’ heads give way to reality.
The parallels between the analog anonymity of CB radio and the digital anonymity of the Internet are obvious.
People who probably would never dream of saying racist, sexist or homophobic remarks out loud in the company of strangers or business associates feel empowered to write them in the comments sections of online newspaper stories.
In cyberspace, the CB handle becomes a username, and it provides the same cover that The Wizard of Oz’s curtain did until Toto sank his teeth into it and revealed the machinery of subterfuge.
This is not to imply that the relative privacy of handles and usernames is inherently sinister. Quite simply, it is to note the similarity in two social phenomena.
If there’s anything that the CB radio and the Twittersphere both prove, it is the unending need of human beings to have some sort of interaction, even if they’ve never met.
However, the only truly clandestine form of communication is a silent prayer.
Big Smokey in the Sky always has his ears on.