Yann Martel, of The Life of Pi fame says that, “in all big cities the style of life is the same. Same endless array of restaurants; same big museums with the usual suspects; same anonymity which can be thrilling when you are young but which I found got tiresome.” So, you prioritise your nuances in accordance with the walks through the sands of time.
Cities are quintessentially described as a haven of wonders and curiousities. They can also be viewed as the breeding ground for ignorance and competition. In these circumstances, one feels that ‘anonymity’ is a useful tool of sorts, helping one to conceal or reveal oneself, as and when required. Consequently, many do not realize that this feature of urbanism is akin to the Yin and Yang, epitomizing both the good and the bad.
‘Anonymity’ in cities is to people what honey is to bees. A place where no one interferes with one’s life, unless asked to. Where freedom and liberation are the way of life. Where there is a rupture between demands of tradition and dictates of religion. Perhaps, this is the strongest asset of anonymity. Villages propagate an enmeshed pattern of living, where everyone knows about each other. People at two extremes of the rural society may migrate to cities. For the lower strata, anonymity means respite from the daily abuse they suffer on the account of their disadvantaged position. For the poorer sections of the upper strata, anonymity means engaging in low status work that may not be considered desirable in villages. Indeed, living in cities means independence from the shackles of rigid, orthodox customs and unnecessary interference in one’s personal bubble.
However, this perceived ‘advantage’ of living in metropolitans can also prove to be detrimental. The very anonymity in cities renders you faceless. This is highlighted in the psychological theory, ‘loneliness in crowds.’ In the concrete jungle, this phrase sounds like an oxymoron. In the vast swarm of humanity, everyone is striving to create an identity. Ironically, it is the very identity they were trying to conceal in the first place. However, the intense struggle to rise to the top renders many as failures. Their individuality is compromised, yet again. They are caught in a vicious cycle of letting or not letting go of their distinctiveness, which leads to an identity crisis as far as the troubled people are concerned.
Nonetheless, this is a very simplistic view of the situation. Currently, we are living in the Internet Age. Living like a mendicant in the city has become a utopian view. Internet and social networking sites have compressed the space offered by the urbanisation. Earlier, they seemed as an instrument to make urban dwellers feel less lonely and establish ties with like-minded people. Unfortunately, this has tarnished the attraction of anonymity. Now Facebook, Instagram or Twitter help anyone to know about everyone at the click of a button. Hence, those who seek solace in anonymity are deprived of it. For many famous film stars or politicians, anonymity remains, but an unattainable elixir.
Hence, there is a need of pondering over the means to counter the various challenges that anonymity poses. If we take inspiration from the model of secularism adopted by India, practising ‘principled distance’ is the best strategy to counter this problem. This means that the people living in any society should honour the privacy of each other, as well as intervene to help whenever required. After all, every society strives on tolerance and interdependence. A co-operation between the media, the government and like-minded citizens is required to achieve this goal. Also, helping people to become emotionally intelligent is the need of the hour. Cherishing and creating a congruent relationship with each other, while fulfilling the obligations of the society is much required. This issue can be taken up by every individual, who is willing to contribute something for the well-being of the society.
Ayn Rand once said “I, Me, Myself-no contradictions allowed.” This mantra of unabashed anonymity should be diluted with the colour of societal flavours to harmonise with the existing continuum of time.
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