(Update: Ivor Tossell responded to my rather ill-mannered rant with a very gracious note, thus disproving the hypothesis that the Internet exists solely so we can all call each other asshats, and adding strength to the hypothesis that at this point Google runs the world. The conversation will continue.)
This article in the Globe: Who do you want to be? irritates me, not least because the author (Ivor Tossell) seems spectacularly shallow-thinking and whiny for a technology writer.
One of the Internet’s basic weaknesses is that there’s no central way of keeping track of who you are.
Well, no. That’s a strength, if it’s anything. It means I control my own information, which is enormously important. Would we really want to put the locus of identity control elsewhere? Who would you trust in that central role — the machines?
But what if you actually want to identify yourself as the same person from one website to the next? Then you’re in trouble, because none of these websites talks to one another. For instance, there’s no easy way of seeing the Wikipedia entries made by a person who uploaded a given YouTube video, or vice versa.
If that bugs you, buy a domain and fill it with RSS feeds from all your various online exploits, or use Pipes to work out a clever mashup, or pull a Steve Mann and record your whole life, or deploy any number of other solutions — and refer to that whenever you post something somewhere. As a technical problem under one’s individual control, it’s not hard.
…every time you sign up for a new website, you’re not just creating an account, you’re starting a new identity.
This is the crux of the problem, I think.
You are not creating a new identity in such cases, you are merely expressing facets of your identity. We express certain facets of ourselves at work, other facets at home, and yet others when we’re down the pub — this isn’t considered a problem, but merely normal compartmentalization and appropriate socialization. That distinction should not vanish, and should not be turned into a problem, simply because the venues in which the behaviour is taking place move online.
That kind of thinking also seems to presume that everyone’s online just for fun. What about those of us who work online AND play online? Would conflating the personal and professional facets of my life accomplish anything, other than boring my friends and irritating my clients? No. The compartmentalization serves a purpose — it helps my clients get at my work and my friends get at my not-work, thus keeping the signal-to-noise ratio high and keeping everyone happy.
Do you really want to push all your online actions into one box where your boss, your mom, and your dog can have at it?
I thought not.