Recently I’ve been thinking about identity and what that actually means, and more importantly what I feel it should mean. Everything that deals with the identity of people appears to default to the assumption that we all have one, single, canonical, identity, that all things we use to identify ourselves should be slaved too. In fiction we know someone is suspicious, a spy, or criminal, when they have multiple passports. In IT we base trust on this who of the identity that issues instructions is linked too. When talking to people online we tell each other not to trust them unless we also know them in the real world, and can be sure that they are that person.
This has never been something I’m entirely comfortable with. I used to compartmentalise my life quite badly, I would behave very differently with different groups of people. At it’s height I would feel physically unwell if these groups ever overlapped. I have managed to reduce this behaviour, but it has never fully gone away, and it still takes mental effort at times to stop myself falling back into this behaviour. Sometimes compartmentalising can be useful, ie to separate work and private life activities.
More recently I have read a report that scares me. If all our identities are linked, and we can be watched in real time, everywhere we go in the real world there is no room for anyone to dissent anymore. This has had me thinking. Why do our online identities need to be linked together, or to our real world identities?
I work in IT, so lets use that as an analogy, it’s not great, but hopefully it will help illustrate some of what I’m thinking. The current fashion in IT is for containerised work loads. Each container is an identity (in our analogy) we don’t really care which physical server (our real world person in our analogy) it runs on, or how many other containers are running on that server. All we care about is if the container is doing the work we want it too. If it stops doing that we discard it and create a new one. Now there are obviously flaws here, we can’t really abide an identity that switches between people, except, in the case of business support contract to a small business, the who doesn’t actually matter, just that the support is available, so maybe we can? Also why would we want to have multiple identities? Well as I mentioned, work and private life could be separated more completely that way. So it still needs more thought, but maybe it’s time that we separate our online identities from our offline identities.