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An Analysis of the Online Identity Battleground 3: The Essence of Identity

What aestetix highlights in this part of the presentation is the different aspects of one’s identity and its relation to nyms, nicknames, hacker handles, etc.

Essence of identity

Essence of identity

Moving on a little bit and getting into some psychology here, the question: “Is identity internal or external?” And if you’ve studied Freud at all, you may be familiar with the concepts of id, ego and superego, the id being the carnal beast nature of man, ego being the intellect, and superego – the relations between all of us. This gets in the questions of reputation – we’ll address this in a bit in the talk.

Has anyone here seen Citizen Kane, the movie? The thing that I really like about Citizen Kane is it’s a movie where the main character dies in the beginning, and the whole movie is trying to piece together who he is and what he was getting on about. And it’s kind of creating this integral of who he was based on other people’s perceptions of him, so gathering who he was based on external perception. So, interesting things to think about.

And then, of course, Oscar Wilde, who’s also a jackass and a misogynist, but really a funny snippy witty guy: “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”

Jungian identity model

Jungian identity model

One of Freud’s students is Carl Jung, somebody who I’ve studied a great deal and I admire his work, defines identity in kind of two realms: you have the conscious and unconscious, or the rational and emotional. The rational is math, logic, set theory, things like that, and words – they’re all definitions, right? And on the unconscious, it’s emotion, group dynamics and feeling, and this is really important to think about when you’re thinking about names and thinking about defining words. The common language, right? That’s why common language is so important.

Jung has this other idea of collective unconscious as well, which is the mood of a room. How do you know when somebody’s upset? Just the general vibe. So these are really important ideas. To sort of revisit that for a second: you have a word, you have the definition of the word, and then you have the meaning of it, so the definition could be the word itself. Like “happy”: what does “happy” mean? Words are tricky things – you know, word salad, humans are really finicky beings.

Bringing identity online

Bringing identity online

So, I was thinking about this: how could this work within tech? And this is something I’ve been thinking about for a while. What I realized is that because we’re all online – we all use Twitter and Facebook; well, I don’t use Facebook, fuck them – but one of the things I realized is mentioned on the capstone there, it says: “Labels help define relationships.” (see left-hand image)

So, what you have there is what you just saw – the Jungian identity model. And then you have the relationship between Twitter, which I also consider a social group or a social network of sorts. And then that label, or the name that appears on it, is the way that we define or describe the relationship that I have with it.

Another one that you can see is the driver’s license, and the important element to remember here is that when we talk about personas, we talk about facets of somebody’s personality, and when we label them, it’s kind of like a prism, right? You have all the different colors that you label, and then you discover there’s more colors within them, and it’s very integral, right? I think identity works the same way, and names are simply labels for all these relationships we have with each other.

Something else I want to point out: you can see they’re labeled A, B, C and D, and D has a subset right there, where the driver’s license for John Smith is relationship C, because that’s the name describing that relationship with the government, the legal relationship. For D, your friends and family call you Jack, which, one could say, is derived from the legal name that you have, or the family name in some cases.

Does anybody know the origin of the word “nickname”, by the way? I think it’s Celtic; it literally means “additional name”, which means there’s a base name too, it means a name that’s extended away from the original one.

Different types of '…nyms'

Different types of ‘…nyms’

Back to what nyms are; we talked about names a lot, right? So, I’m defining a pseudonym – and by the way, when we say nyms, we usually mean that truncated nym part of the end of “pseudonym”, and that’s what most people think about. I believe it’s much more than that; we’re still having this vocabulary discussion within Nym Rights, so, this is my opinions.

I define a pseudonym as a name that is often used to hide a base name. And base name is very important – you have the original one and then hide it with a shield or something else. Witness protection program is an example of that.

A polynym is a name consisting of multiple words or symbols, so Charles Foster Kane or Dave Brown, something like that. A mononym is a name of just one word or symbol, so it could be Charles, it could be David, whatever. An autonym is something I really like, and you have to differentiate an autonym from a pseudonym, by the way. Autonym is a name bestowed upon oneself. Does anybody here have an autonym? A few people, ok, cool. And anonym is a name representing anonymity. And this is something I often refer to, if you’ve ever used Slashdot: when you make an account, you make a comment without logging in, you’re branded as an anonymous coward. So, just some basic definitions there.

Why not use a real name?

Why not use a real name?

One of the core elements of this talk: why not use a real name? What’s wrong with that? Actually, first off, anybody, what’s the opposite of real? And you know what the etymology of pseudonym is, right? Pseudo is Greek for fake, or artificial and such. When we think of real and fake, we think of almost belonging and not belonging, and there’s kind of a negative implication with the word “real” or with things that are not considered real. Which is more valid? Which is more legitimate? Those are words I’ll get to in a bit.

There is also a lack of agency: how many of you chose what your name is? Ok, a few, so you didn’t even have a choice, what the fuck? And maybe you’re ok with that, but you should at least think about it. Easily substituted with better alternatives – I think given name, I think birth name, legal name – those are all totally fine. Those also represent and compartmentalize the ideas of names and something very different from real, and each of those is considered real. I’d say every name is real myself.

I could give an entire talk on where the concept of a real name comes from. The earliest origin that I found of it is English Common Law starting with Henry II – around the 1200s, somewhere in there I believe. Because they were running into this problem where all these little communities were trying to figure out property rights, they had to use Common Law to unite everything, and how are you going to tell who owns what? Well, then you need to have a name, right?

There are other examples where this comes in: the people who survived the plague, the Reformation of the Catholic Church, all these other elements, and of course the discovery of the New World. If you’re interested in that topic, it’s a brilliant topic. There was a talk given at the conference 28C3 called “What is in a name?” So, I recommend going to that, and we can talk later after that if you want.

What are social networks?

What are social networks?

Another thing that I want to go over is just what social networks are in general. Is anybody here familiar with Joseph Campbell? Has anyone here seen Star Wars? George Lucas credits Joseph Campbell in the Hero’s Journey with the creation of what Star Wars was about. And this is older than Campbell, by the way – the right hand path, the left hand path.

The right hand path is the institutionalization, the structure you were brought up in, the culture you come from. Maybe it’s the store down the street, the people that you knew, the way that you speak, the way you shake hands or bow, right? That’s all considered kind of the way things are supposed to be, the right hand path.

And the left hand path, which is also known as kind of the Hero’s Journey, is: when you go off into these realms of self-discovery. So you can see on the circle here, you have a guy, and there’s call to action, call to adventure – it could be when anyone gets a phone call, follows a white rabbit. And then you go a little bit longer, and you often get aids to work with – so, Luke gets the lightsaber. Then you go along, you have challenges, you get a mentor, maybe, so I think it was the Oracle or Obi-Wan Kenobi.

And you keep going until there is the abyss, and you get all these challenges as you run through them. And then you come to the atonement, which is bringing everything back together within itself, and then you return because you’re the same person, right? That’s something really interesting; I don’t have time to go through all of this, I could give an entire talk on just this.

I do want to focus on that question: “Why do hacker handles matter?” Anybody have an idea? Attribution is one thing; more within the context of the hero’s journey idea. What do you think? You are choosing your own identity, sure. One of the examples I’ve given to illustrate this point is… Everyone here knows what privileges are, I assume? I consider a name to be what I call an invisible privilege. If somebody has a long nose and you make fun of them, that’s a visible privilege; I consider a name an invisible privilege.

So, for example, how many of you have ever worn a tie to work? You know how everyone treats you differently when you have that tie on? It affects the mood; it affects the social network that you have. I run into this: if I introduce people by a name that they recognize as one of theirs. What if I introduce myself as Joseph Campbell and they didn’t know who it was? Well, I would get treated very differently than if I introduced myself as aestetix. And that’s something to just think about: “Why is it that we do that?” And this whole idea of what’s normal and where social norms come from, and that gets into Joseph Campbell’s ideas.

Establishing identity online

Establishing identity online

And one last thing on this myth I want to cover: do you guys know about the Zooko’s triangle? (See image) It comes from Zooko Wilcox-OHearn, he’s a cryptographer. The general idea here is that you have these three attributes for a digital name, a name, and a digital system. The name can be global, securely unique or memorable, and you can have two out of three, you can’t have all three, and that’s Zooko’s triangle paradigm.

If you want to understand this a bit better, there’s the analogous – fast, cheap and good, you can’t have all three, you can have two of the tree. An example that has been given for this is domain names, where you can have like abc.com, shmoocon.org – well, that’s global because everyone can access it from the URL, right? It’s memorable – everyone remembers that. It’s not really secure from, like, phishing attacks and things like that. And these are the caveats that we run into as we try to integrate all these contexts together, which is what the names are all about.

Read previous: An Analysis of the Online Identity Battleground 2: Defining a “Nym”

Read next: An Analysis of the Online Identity Battleground 4: Legal Names and Cyberbullying

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