Dude – Where Is My Identity?

On 19 January 2010, the Real Time Club met at its normal venue, The National Liberal Club, with me as the Chairman.  The theme of the evening was “Dude – Where is my Identity”. Some 55 Members and Guests were in attendance.

Michael Mainelli, Chairman, opened the evening, welcomed new members and guests and introduced the speaker, Liam Maxwell, Head of Computing at Eton College.  He also welcomed a number of students from Eton and the Oratory.

Liam started by introducing the Eton and Oratory students. He posed the question – “How do students deal with things like Facebook” . He quoted Eric Blair, an Old Etonian – the enemy of clear language is insincerity. He also introduced some new jargon –

Student Multislacking Eating tea, downloading music, and game playing.
Dejamoo Bullshit I heard before but can’t place where.

He then went on to the subject of what is identity in the context of a talk to his students going back over 20 years to the fall of the Berlin Wall.  Did East Germans have identity?  Not one that they owned.  It is therefore necessary to identify the difference between how we see ourselves, and how others see us.  The internet has enabled people to create an identity.  The young man creates an image of himself in a low lit area surrounded by girls in low cut tops.


So what is identity? Is it:
Your credit rating
Your insurance rating
Your identity number
Your driving Licence number
Your NHS number
Your passport number
Etc. etc. etc.

We have many identities as seen by government.  But for a person under 18, there is a different perspective of identity.  For example, it’s on Facebook complete with address and phone numbers. This is seen as normal by that generation.  Some 1% of our economy is spent on paper pushing by government.  This is a worrying sum when you need to save money and change.  But how, in a post bureaucracy, do you run systems without an admin. package.

We own our personal data, its ours, and we should control the interaction with government. The government is heading from a policy view, to one of control, and being able to monitor opinions and feelings. Should we have government by Facebook? By electronic voting?

Liam concluded by stating that identity is a core part of government – and that therefore a critical issue has to be – who owns it.  Discussion was then opened to the meeting.  A large number of points were raised by members and guests including:

  • It is important to ensure that information held on line is incorrect.
  • Facebook has a lot of other peoples views of you, including friends photos of you – but you can neither control or correct it.
  • The over 25s have a different perspective between online and off line relationships, whereas the under 25s use Facebook as a tool to communicate, with their identity being a by-product.. They do not make the same differentiation, because they have no concern about the differences.
  • People don’t build their Ids – but over time others build it up. “You have no friends” is a generation accusation, and your identity online develops without trying.
  • 123people – links all known information for a specific name. You cannot stop the identity on line whether you like it or not.
  • Facebook has become a mod of university student communication.
  • The issue is how is it used – with a CV you try to give the best impression – this is the same with an Internet identity.
  • People can have multiple Ids – at the meeting over 40 people had more than 1 ID. I can now choose who I want to be!
  • What will people think in 20 years looking back at today’s Facebook entries. Will potential employers use it as a form of reference? DO young people realise the historical trace ability.
    One of our student guests replied – Yes – it terrifies me!
  • A lot of scare stories are not true – for example there is no evidence that you cannot get into university because of a Facebook entry.
  • Some schools control access by age.
  • Part of growing up is negotiating the past.
  • An equivalent to Facebook exists in the House of Commons – “Launchpad”.
  • Facebook includes remarks about how a particular school is handling a specific drug problem.
  • Other people can add data – so the question is between control and security.
  • The simple answer – don’t let stuff go on Facebook, otherwise the students see what colleagues think.
  • When does representation become misrepresentation?
  • Facebook is seeking controversy – the rules for this are buried in the small print.
  • How will history look at us?
  • Internet is bad at forgiveness.
  • There is a split between identity, and the entitlement as to how to use it – trust is implicit but not well placed.
  • Year 1 University students use Facebook to attract friends – Year 3 to attract employers.

At that point the Chairman asked Liam to summarise.  He said that the digital age is about forgetting, not remembering.  We have to be selective in remembering.  And most importantly, if you want to say something – talk about it. Don’t hide behind IT.

The meeting closed at 9.35 with the Chairman thanking Liam for setting the theme for the evening, and for encouraging such a lively debate.