Phil has released his fourth Identity Fallacy – Identity is Monolithic. After reading it, I could almost hear the choir of meta and virtual directory companies rise up in praise. This what they have been really been talking about all these years, but often times lacked the distance from the problem to express it out so clearly.
To continue his train of thought, if I may, although identity is not monolithic, our perception is our identity is monolithic. There is one me. I may have many contexts in which I work, live, play, and shop, but at the bottom of it, that is still me. This mindset is getting people out there in trouble.
You keep track of your various bits out there. You do not have all that data on your computer or phone, but you have a bunch of it. Applications like Keychain on the Mac help aid your memory by providing pointers to other bits of you. You keep track of things that aren’t immediately recognizable as you, such as your characters in MMORPGs and your alter ego on MySpace where profess to be a lot more interesting than you really are. (See Mark’s musings on that one.)
Essentially, you act as a powerful virtual directory for things that you perceive as owning. You own your account on your home computer. You own your wallet with your driver’s license in it. These are all pieces of your “monolithic” facade of identity. By definition, your identity cannot be monolithic as it is comprised of all these little bits that you are tracking. But, we still like to think of the notion of the singular me. (What could be interesting to research is if people with a polytheistic set of beliefs hold the same notion of singular self as those with a monotheistic set.)
In fact, the belief that you own the various components of your overall identity edifice is what gets people in trouble. You think you own your account on the corporate email system, and thus you track it in your virtual directory. If you haven’t realized by now, you do not own that identity. VPN account. No. RACF id. Absolutely not. Though you don’t own these things, you still track them as if they were really part of you. Seems fair – you do use them frequently. You typically use them in a work environment and people, to varying degrees, associate work and self. Keep in mind those are not things that you own, merely things you use.
It gets worse. Much worse. There is a whole category of things out there that you don’t, and often times cannot, track: data about you. Credit records. Insurance information. This is all the good stuff that gets copied and reused; the activities that fall under the header of identity theft. (I wince when I hear people talk about having your identity stolen. The metaphysical implications are staggering.) There is so much out there that you and I don’t track; it is truly astonishing. No one would confuse my identity for a record in a police database saying that my car was parked on Main St at 10:05 AM last Tuesday, but these days, the two are more and more equivalent.
Revel in the fact that you are such a good virtual directory. Okay, you may not blow the doors of a benchmark, but you hang with the best of them. Just keep reminding yourself that a) you may not own as much of “you” as you think and b) your identity isn’t monolithic.
I’m off to Catalyst; see you there.