Flash in the Pan
A Quarterly Posting at Tiny Lights
by Robert Koslowsky
I've lost my identity. That cold realization dawns on me as I swipe my credit card through the point-of-sale terminal at Target. My identity is defined by a narrow magnetic strip embedded in my credit card: a set of digital data stored for executing financial transactions. The credit card company owns the data I originally furnished to secure the convenience of credit, and hence, my digital identity.
Flashbacks of George Orwell's 1984 cause a temporary freeze in my movements. Corporate and government entities view me not as a number, but as a set of digital identifiers that define me. My benumbed state is heightened with the recognition that existing database and copyright laws exclude me from ownership of my own identity. In fact, the companies I do business with and the government of which I am a citizen, own my information. They may choose to sell my information for profit or revenue and there is nothing I can do about it. My digitized identity is beyond my grasp.
The checkout woman asks if I'm all right. I just stare at her, not understanding her words, but realizing that I don't have complete control over my personal information.
"Excuse me, sir," I hear, "you need to move along."
I shuffle forward as a second mild panic washes over me. I realize that my identity is also owned by the social networking sites that I frequent, such as Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, and every other on-line service that I load my data into. Since I don't own these sites and the places I drop my personal data, I can't move my data, cancel my data, or easily alter my data. By not being a stakeholder in data ownership, I'm not an owner of my online identity; Facebook is. I'm unsettled by this reality.
I walk towards the exit. People give me a wide berth, noting the strange look on my face. Realization can be a scary thing, especially when it comes too late. I don't own the place where I deposit my data, so I don't own my data.
My pace quickens. Anger takes hold. I'm not sure if I'm mad at myself or angry at the system. Social networks have locked me in. Corporate and government legal eagles make a monopoly of trafficking my data for their benefit.
I walk out of the store and into the sunlight. The rays of light strike me and so does a thought. I wonder about my web site, an on-line place that I own, a haven of cyberspace where the data I enter is owned by me and no one else. I can shape it, move it, and delete it as I see fit. I'll have a deed to my digital property - my own transactional identity. I'll reclaim my identity. All I have to do is pay for it; just like a summer cottage where I can do as I please…at least once I pay for it.
Rob Koslowsky is a Santa Rosa writer who trusts his identity to this website.
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