Saturday, August 05, 2006

Identity Crisis

This train of thought started with a question that pops up from time to time when worrying about what others think of me, namely, am I cool?

Excruciating isn't it? You're very likely to have wondered about yourself as well - hopefully not frequently or often - and I'd like to apologise for bringing it up, as it's likely that if you're a friend of mine then you believe, to paraphrase Sartre, cool is other people, anyhow.

It came from what I've been banging on about lately. As soon as you put your taste out there - the colour on your walls, the bookmarks you share on, whether you wear a hat, the music you've recently listened to - you create an identity open to others' reactions and whether they embrace, reject, or ignore you, it's all a bit scary to find out where you fit in the community.

For certain aspects of life at specific times and certainly by accident rather than design, I'd say I've been within spitting distance of cool, nearly at arms length, but only ever close enough to tickle it with the tips of my fingers. Like when I nearly saw Public Enemy or when I nearly featured in a short film about night buses. Close but no banana.

At my lowest ebbs, I have described myself as feeling like the gap between other people - an empty space, a true cypher. Now through contributing and sharing more online, I've gone from a big fat zero to having created something semi-solid, something akin to a cultural skeleton. But evidence of cool?

Some of the tactics that have contributed to this structure such as using usernames that are related to my real name and being open about who my employer is, mean that I am leaving traces of reality behind, that someone with the inclination could start piecing together to put flesh on the bones, maybe track my movements and decisions and make judgements on them, damning or otherwise (and have forced me to consider a disclaimer as seen below my profile - hopefully a simpler version will be pushed out v soon).

Which leads me to consider the discussions around identity cards in the UK. As we are sharing more and more information anyway with multinationals, entrepeneurs and Tom, Dick and Harry 2.0, are identity cards issued by a democratic government really the end of the world?

But then the reason I am happy for companies like Amazon to know stuff about me is because it benefits me. It makes my life easier, and makes a chore more enjoyable. (If you haven't read the milk reviews, please do take 5 minutes out of your day.) Whereas I don't think the benefits of id cards are so clear cut.

Do countries with id cards really have fewer terrorists and smaller/less problematic immigrant populations (not that I think our immigrant population is problematic I hasten to add)? I did, despite myself, sympathize with Roger Scruton for the first time ever when listening to Any Questions on Saturday when explaining the resonances with Nazi Europe. It's true, id cards remind us of other countries in times of duress, and at times when such systems have been abused, rather than a practice of the most progressive and enlightened of societies.

For one who is so free 'n' easy with my personal information, I also feel uneasy about it opening up possibilities of identity theft. Despite their reassurances that it will help this growing crime, everyone knows that Government IT projects are notoriously problematic, overrun, and go over budget - look at the NHS patient records scheme. With this in mind, I don't feel inclined to give the government a huge amount of money for something which will no doubt be slightly crap for at least the next ten years and of dubious benefit, which could then be hacked by some bored teenager trying to prove he's cool to his mates.

Which brings us full circle. In these meandering thoughts, did I find an answer to my original question - am I cool? I can't really get past the fact that as one asks the question, one answers it - but hey, maybe if someone stole my identity they might inadvertently make me cool.

No, I am not cool and I'm content to be officially sanctioned and identified as such. But right now, naive as it may be, I trust Rupert Murdoch with that information more than I would some basic personal data with Tony Blair.

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