January 30, 2013
Pencourage Aims To Provide Real, Truthful Discussion Under A Cloak Of Anonymity
Michael Harper for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
Facebook´s rise to the top and the effects it´s had on modern society has been pondered, discussed, researched and categorized time and time again. Evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar, for instance, has found strong evidence which proves humans instinctively limit themselves to natural social networks (not the ones found online) of around 150 people. Then there are those, such as Dr. Laura Mickes, who believes we communicate with one another on Facebook in a very primitive and evolutionary way, issuing quick bits of information in short bursts.
No matter which theory is believed, one thing is for certain: Facebook is changing us, and we are only left with a choice as to how we will respond.
Now, a new social network called Pencourage is giving people a different way to respond, allowing its users to say anything they want from underneath the cloak of anonymity.
Pencourage is meant to be a safe place where no one knows your true identity. In fact, even the founders of Pencourage have asked to remain just as anonymous as those who write the gritty and raw updates found on the site. In an interview, the founder of Pencourage said the decision to remain just as anonymous is simply a way to foster authenticity, and thereby lead by example.
“Unless we´re authentic, the site will not work,” said the founder in an interview with redOrbit.
This desire to create an authentic community was a strong and common thread throughout the entire interview as the founder spoke passionately about the site, what it means to its users and, ultimately, the effect it could one day have on the way we communicate online.
“At this point in history, when people are talking the most, there is the most dishonesty,” noted Pencourage´s founder.
And it´s hard to disagree. Facebook seems somehow naturally geared towards embellishment, towards digitally one-upping our friends under the guise of keeping everyone updated on our daily goings on. These incessant pictures of vacations to exotic locales or brand new children or posts about new jobs and new relationships are just as easily read as “Look at how much better I am than you.”
More than embellishment, Facebook is mostly a place for only the good news in life. Posts of “I´m thinking about leaving my husband” or “I feel like my life has no meaning” have no place in the land of likes and thumbs ups.
Pencourage (a clever name if ever there was one) is all about allowing its users to say whatever they want, to air their grievances as they will or even express sheer joy with the way their life is going at the moment.
It´s in these darker, brooding posts where the beauty of Pencourage comes through. Take, for instance, a post from a new mother struggling with Post-Partum Depression. “I can feel myself getting more and more depressed every day...I hate to admit it but I'm realizing that I'm enjoying my son less and less,” writes the Pencourage user.
Unlike anywhere else on the Internet, the users who read this post quickly offered up support for this new mother, encouraging her first to seek medical attention, then to stay strong and surround herself with friends and loved ones.
“Post Partum Depression is real, it is a medical condition, don't feel guilty just try to take some time out to take care of youself, (sic)” responded one user.
Other users offered well wishes of “chin up,” and “you will get past this.”
Anonymity has a way of encouraging us to write more openly, more freely than we would if everyone knew what we were really thinking.
And this is where Pencourage really shines: As it turns out, we´re also more likely to be more encouraging and less judgmental when no one knows our true identities.
The founder of Pencourage spoke several times of how proud they were of the community which has been built at Pencourage.com.
“Ninety percent of the site is about encouragement,” said the anonymous founder, once more pointing out that the users are in complete control of building this community. The founders have simply provided the platform, have planted the seed. The users, the vast majority of which are women, have taken ownership and have built a community of overwhelming caring and support.
The fact that more women use the site than men is also a product of organic growth. While the founders never meant to build a site primarily for women, they´ve noticed that women simply “get it,” understanding immediately that this is a safe place where they can say whatever they want. There are men on the site, of course, but according to the founder, men normally write one quick post, browse the site and move on.
While users are encouraged to write at will what they will, it must be mentioned that the creators of Pencourage have taken into account any worst case scenario. Though they strive to protect the anonymity of their users, the site makes it “damn clear” (the founder´s words) that they´ll disclose, upon legal request, information “to protect the safety, rights, or property of the public, any person, or pencourage.”
In conclusion, Pencourage is part community, part daily journal. It´s a little bit Post Secret and a little bit Rock and Roll, with users unashamedly admitting things they´d never say to those closest to them, much less a social network like Facebook.
It´s hard to believe this new social network will one day surpass the popularity of social giants Facebook or Twitter. After all, though it´s nice to spend some time behind the drawn curtains of anonymity, we must face the world as our true selves from time to time. At best, Pencourage will remain as a strong and supportive alternative to these sites, a second network, the proverbial “third place” for our digital lives.
At this point in our society, even third place is better than the alternative of continuing on, miserable and jealous of our friends with no avenue to express our real thoughts. And while there is a fair share of gritty and raw content on the site, (talk of depression, disappointment and infidelity are regularly visited topics) when viewed in this format, these issues only serve to magnify the positivity of this community.
When seen on the whole, Pencourage paints a beautifully honest and real picture of the human condition; Not without its flaws and errant strokes, but altogether wonderful.
In the future, the founders of Pencourage hope to grow the site and see their community expand to include even more truth-tellers. After all, if a site like Facebook can change us, quite literally, on an evolutionary level, perhaps something as powerful as unabashed truth could one day have the same effect?
To be honest, one can only hope.