Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Descartes identity

In a recent exchange of views, one of the participants to the discussion was "interested in hearing [my] definition of an online identity". This is certainly one of the toughest questions I have been facing. From the start, asking for "my" definition is already recognizing "online identity" as a controversial subject. I certainly have no pretence to defining what "online identity" is. But I can try to express what I know about my own identity. The only real identity I know of is what I have in my own head. We have been gifted with a conscience but unfortunately with poor means of communication. As a direct result, it makes it rather difficult to share my identity with anyone but me. This is probably the same for every human being. At every moment, I am only able to use our crude means of communications (speech, visual contact, body language…) and in turn I am only able to convey a crude expression of my identity. But this is of exceptional quality when compared to what it becomes when filtered by the Internet communication tools. The lower quality of any communication technology compared to human expressiveness makes the resulting identity perception rather approximate…

I do not have an online or an offline identity. I just have an identity

I am hearing here and there that whatever we do on the Internet is leaving a trail and, by extension, that for example a mail address or a blog are ultimately representing one's "online identity". I certainly disagree with what I consider a reductive simplification. I never thought of this blog or any communication address I use as representative of an "online identity". My blog is a way of expressing very specific opinions on a limited number of technical topics that in other times I would have expressed using a different medium. I am concurently voicing different opinions on different subjects in many different places such as cafes, art galleries, restaurants, exhibition, streets, during business meetings or in my home. I do not have an online and an offline identity. I just have my identity.

Like many other human beings, I have been given some attributes to "assert" my identity to other beings or systems that would require it. … But beyond the 4 digits of my ATM pin code, I am not using these attributes very often.  In particular, I believe "online identity" is mainly an euphemism for address handles. I consider an email address as an address handle that can be used to communicate with me. No more, no less than a post office box. Actually, at the post office, I will have to produce an attribute to "assert" my identity if I want my mail, but my P.O.Box is in no way representing my identity…

To conclude, I find today's rhetorical debate about identity which is raging in the blogosphere rather limited when confronted to Descartes' "I think therefore I am". I only have a certainty in this domain: the day I will stop thinking I would have lost my identity.  This is all contained in five simple words. But Descartes had a valid excuse: he was a genius.

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