What may people have several of?
Googling for “identities personas” or “identity persona” I find other blog posts like this (though it’s from 2005) and this article. Maybe it’s time again to get serious about the matter of the terms to use – particularly as people were already struggling with it a few years ago.
Then there’s another distinction made by Scott Wilson among others: between identity and principal. (I referred to this before in a previous entry.) It seems to me somewhat pleasantly ironic that this discussion, grounded in the technical side of identity management, is a basis for separating an “identity” from the real embodied human being that may be associated with that identity among others.
I find myself in two minds. One of my minds likes the term “persona”, and would like to use it. But I can’t help feeling that just calling the things we’re talking about “personas” is a little weak: a bit like trying to reassure ourselves that we really know, don’t we, what people’s real identity is? And all this persona stuff, well isn’t it a bit like Second Life? “Who is that green lizard?”, or whatever the question might be. It is true that separating “identity” and “persona” would be one way of distinguishing those of us who are interested in personal identity (identity as in “crisis”) from those who are interested in identity management (identity as in “cards”). But maybe that is a little too easy, too neat. The relationship between the two ideas of identity may not be close, but it does exist: people often use different identifying information, in terms of different usernames and passwords for instance, to authenticate themselves in different roles or for different purposes.
This brings us back to the question, what is the essence of identity? It is certainly possible to see identity as being about a physical body, or ultimately DNA (except it isn’t ultimate: consider identical twins and clones). But would that get us anywhere? We could call that “genetic identity”. It is most certainly of interest when considering inheritance, paternity, evolution and related issues. Some of these issues are legal, and that’s not surprising, because genetic identity is provable and stable (except for identical twins etc.). But when considering the sense of self, and other psychological matters, it loses its grip.
What matters about people? In our culture, at least, people do not normally enter into voluntary relationships with others on the basis of their genetic identity. (In other societies, maybe kinship – close to DNA – is or was a more pervasive factor.) Rather, people want to associate with others on the basis of an understanding of “who they are” that is not closely related to genetic identity, but is more to do with their “character”: what they can do, what their intentions and values are. If we are going to have a useful concept of identity for our society and our social software, then it doesn’t make sense to base it on DNA.
However, non-genetic identity is much more fluid, if not slippery, and harder to define. Not surprisingly, I think that what we need in terms of identity is related to the personal information that can be represented in e-portfolios.
Enough for today.