identity

I found it on a corner aisle between iPhones and lavender, looking back at me with a troubled and screen-burnt stare.

identity
n. The collective aspect of the set of characteristics by which a thing is definitively recognizable or known. —AHD, 4th Edition

We are at another interesting, albeit frightening, time in history where we can stand upon the shoulders of our technologies and policies—with arms open to the relentless development pipeline—and watch identity become both marketplace commodity and data of criminality.

Neuroscientist and professor Eric Kandel, recently outlined in an essay, Thinking Animal: Where Actions and Decisions Begin, three states of consciousness that neuroscientists and psychoanalysts have suggested our sense of self to be based upon:

  • wakefulness
  • attention
  • perceptual and reportable awareness

If our identities arise from these conscious states, then we can begin to see how ecosystems like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat—whose software is designed to addict (this one too) and sell ads—can play a large role in affecting them. In fact, as you consider the way in which we interact with each other and companies on these platforms, you begin to see how our identities are not only shaped by these systems, but created-thrown-out-sold-remade-shifted-and-bought over and over by them. 

Our sense of self has become a data point on the stock exchange of ads.

What are the consequences?

Individually, it reads like a laundry list for Requiem for a Dream: loss of self-esteem, difficult and ruined relationships, increased anxiety, addiction, depression, and death.

Collectively, it reads like a Noam Chomsky lecture: loss of solidarity, increased polarization, plutocratic policies, autocratic leaders, and homelessness (this one too).

Equally troubling as the existential crises, is the privacy one.

The Department of Homeland Security has started spreading its facial scanners through airports across the country, rife with legal and technical concerns. If your facial data wasn't previously in a database accessible by governments and corporations, then perhaps it soon will be.

Then there's a Chinese artificial intelligence company, iFlyTek—known to share data with China's domestic security forces—who is successfully developing relationships with automakers to have its voice recognition technologies implemented in vehicles in China, such as Volkswagen, Jeep, and Mercedes. Would you like to buy some Nikes from Alibaba? Or how about an arrest for driving to that protest march last month?

And now Facebook is officially targeting kids.

What can we do to ensure technological advances benefit without oppressing us? Enable without exposing us? Serve without dictating us?

If you're reading this post, and any of the linked articles, then you've already embarked in the right direction.

The first step is being aware so that you can cast your vote in the only way that currently matters anymore, your dollar. If a company has a history of collusion, corruption, exploitation, abuse, lying, or other means of criminality, then cast your dollar to another company who hasn't.

The next step is calling, emailing, and writing your congress persons.

And a further step is looking into technology created and guided for the people, not against.

Our homes are becoming a collection of stuff, when they should be a collection of love, comfort, and hope. And as identity becomes a product, a home filled with us becomes but a collection of commoditized junk.

We need to readjust our identity and it starts with the first state—awake. Because home should be a collection of us, we need all the love and humanity fluff.