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Pat Parslow :: Blog :: Technology and Community as Identity

April 23, 2008

A lively and informative session, with George Siemens discussing Identity, and particularly Digital Identity (DI).  As he pointed out, most of us are more concerned with the relational aspects of identity than the technical aspects relating to authentication and authorisation.

Our online identities,  our DIs, have multiple aspects to them.  They have persistant elements, in our profiles in social networking spaces and in blog entries, and transient elements in our synchronous and semi-synchronous communications.  However, even the transient elements can be logged, and one of the issues which this really highlights for me is that our DI is much more strongly influenced by the actual way we participate than our "real life" identities are.  In real life, our contributions to the process of community are remembered by different individuals in different ways.  When there is an accurate record of that process of interaction, there is less 'wriggle room' for a re-negotiation of what that contribution means in terms of the community in which it happened.

Putting aside the problems with content or communication being taken out of context by others (which can certainly happen, but which I am tempted to disregard for the moment because it is an example of 'bad behaviour' in my view), this stark clarity of our actual transactions means that we have to take into account the way our identity is formed both within the community we are acting in, but also in other communities which may share members in common.

To clarify, I am using 'identity' in the sense of the way we are viewed by others.  We have a multiplicity of identities, depending not only on the individuals and communities who are aware of us, but on the roles we play within those contexts.  There is the potential with DIs to aggregate multiple strands of identity, especially with the persistant forms of identity trail we leave on the internet.  But there is also the possibility of having a huge array of separate strands which can be sufficiently muddled that automated systems of aggregation would still have trouble bringing them together to try to form an over all view.

Thre was some discussion about the 'old days' of experimenting with alternate identities on the web.  I actually think that this is still quite strong, although there is certainly an element of it being fashionable to construct a single authoratitive authentic identity, as Josie mentioned.  If the trend to an open, honest projection of self onto the internet enabled social sphere continues, doesn't this make it easier for those who wish to project multiple selves?

I am particularly interested in the concept of self as meaning.  In terms of 'who is watching us', the issue of large corporations and governments  aggregating a view of our DIs concerns me less when I consider what meaning I have to them.  As a customer or citizen, little of my DI will be of interest to either companies or governments, although I am certainly no advocate of a Big Brother environment.  Personally, I do maintain multiple DIs, and despite my best efforts to hunt down the connections between them, without access to the computers I use (or just potentially my ISP) I have to say I am not convinced that I can successfully produce an aggregate view.  On the other hand, I have elements of my identity which are not starkly removed from one another, and finding the cross-overs between these is more-or-less trivial.

In many ways, the trails between people is more likely to be revealing.  My identity is not entirely within my control - it is an emergent property of the extended networks to which I belong.  If a colleague chooses to talk about me in a meeting which I am not at, or post something about the work I am doing, this has a direct effect on my identity because people start to build associations between my name and what they have been told.  Indeed, on campus, I have often had people come up to me and start a conversation with "You must be Pat", typically looking for advice on something.  I am glad that this one of my identities is such that people feel I will be helpful, but it was initially unnerving.  This is the same in an online environment, with people gaining an impression of the identity without ever necessarily meeting the individual.  

Personally, therefore, I tend towards a more and more lazy approach to my identities.  People will make up their own versions of them, and I will not have much impact on the identities they form for me unless I directly interact with them.  It is, perhaps, the best reason I can think of for leading life according to the principles of most religions - do as you would be done by, and be honest.  That way, your other, less-controlled, identities are less likely to come back and bite you in the bum!

 


Overview for Keywords: community, emergence, identity

Blogs with Keywords: community, emergence, identity

Posted by Pat Parslow

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