Who am I? Identity in the cloud and the new nightmare
I’ve always had my fair share of nightmares (literal, here…you know, wake up in a cold sweat kind of thing). They ranged from the truly terrifying upon waking (big big dangerous spiders), to the nearly farcical - trapped in a cage of excel? Yep, that happened several times and probably reflects some of the pain I experienced as an entry level investment banker.
Every time one of these things happen, I can fairly easily trace it to something in my life causing me anxiety. Obviously, sometimes there is an element of obscurity there (hi Freud!), but the relationships between fear and dream have always been pretty traceable. Which is why a dream I had last night is so eye opening.
The heart of the dream: traveling in South East Asia, and my wallet is stolen without my noticing. It is returned, also without my noticing, but, when I pull it out, I notice the money is fake. It dawns on me that my credit cards have been stolen, and, with it, my identity. Cue the cold sweat wake up.
And sitting and thinking about that dream now, it’s incredible to me that I haven’t already had that dream. I live, sleep, eat, dream the internet these days. Everything I do is contained in a series of linked techno-social constructs that are me because…I have the passwords to them? I have several bits of unique information that let me access them and use them? But those elements are disjointed enough, and there are enough people out there who have no meaningful experience with flesh and blood Aaron Harris, that those identities could just as easily not be me. With the regular compromise of various security systems all over the world - from blogging platforms to major retail outlets - the digital bits that we point to as “us” are increasingly at risk of becoming…not us? Or, perhaps, some small piece of that identity could be hijacked without our even realizing it.
Which is to take a long winded run-up to a fairly old existential crisis. This time, though, that crisis is effectively projected outwards. It’s no longer simply a question of losing/finding oneself within one’s own mind. There’s an increasingly large element of not knowing where the basic anchors of one’s identity are, or if they are even secure. And I think that points to one of those startup ideas/themes that always plays around in my head (especially as I spend hours looking over the tutors signing up for tutorspree and running screens and talking to them): we need a better solution to personal identity, and it has to be secure. Does that mean everyone gets their own RSA key? Biometric scanning at every computer? Star Trek style voice/code word combinations to set off the self destruct?
I’m really not sure. But until that does happen, I’ll still probably wake up in a cold sweat every now and then, wondering if I’m still me.