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A Theory of (Your) Identity
Commentary on the News
Monday, April 02, 2012
Ed DeShields

The first thing a cop does when investigating a crime is to snatch your computer or your cell phone which can instantly decode your digital whereabouts, your intentions or your motives.  It is the DNA, a fingerprint so-to-speak, of your social identity.

To get a quick picture of just how meaningful this has become, just look at most any recent crime case.  It is the digital trail that convicts.  It is the digital trail that implicates accomplices to the crime.

The digital trail becomes the book built upon your identity.  Rather than one’s identity being stolen – which happens occasionally -- it’s more likely you’re creating one and giving it away to anyone who wants it.   The mere fact that you know someone digitally can add a new chapter to your identity – positive or negative.

If you’re a government it is the key to how free, or repressed your people are.

Your digital record is being collected and will live forever.  Internet search engines like Google and Bing monitor every signal about us it can get its hands on.  Applications like Facebook and Twitter are like chapters in your identity book.  It reads your Yahoo or Gmail account carefully collecting even more signals about you. 

These signals filter every result you are shown and create “your world”.   If you’re a sports fanatic and Google the word “jaguar” you’ll get the latest football scores and highlights from the National Football League.  Otherwise you might get results about big cats in Africa.

If you’re a Democrat you won’t see much (positive) about a Republican and visa-versa.  You’re going to see the political points-of-view sympathetic of your individual ideals.

The power of this data cannot be understated.  However there’s a danger that this “filtering” can involuntarily polarize or focus the viewpoint of entire societies and their governments so as to exclude a broader view.  If you’re a government, or a citizen in fear or support of your government there will be little tolerance for non-conformity. 

To this point, I had the opportunity to sit with Ian Bremmer last week and hear his viewpoint on how information is affecting a realignment of the world away from the traditional globalized political and economic system we’ve talked so much about. 

Dr. Bremmer has spent much of his time advising world leaders on US foreign policy, including US presidential candidates from both Democratic and Republican parties, Russian Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. 

Bremmer’s view of a “filtered” emerging world includes a loss of America’s post WWII political and economic dominance (not a destruction of America) replaced by a regional world of filtered influence (by the internet and dissemination of information between people of similar needs).   It is the anti-global movement so-to-speak.

For example, Vietnam, as a central Asian country, will not emerge as a global power, but be overshadowed by the larger influence from China in the region.  Globally, Europe will no longer automatically align to U.S. policy, but align itself with its regional actors who may be more aligned by self-interest. 

A world that used to be comprised of “alignment in exchange for security and economics” has morphed into a filtered view of what peoples have in common.  And it is the Internet and filtering of information that is a significant threat to a broad realignment of the world’s political and economic power based on self-interest.

Countries who prosper will be those, which are able to serve their own regional interests but “pivot” to accommodate their region’s needs.   There will be little need for a traditional super-power oversight.

Thus, Dr. Bremmer says, “policymakers need an entirely new geopolitical framework, one that captures the way decision-makers within these states calculate their interests and make their choices-and one that offers insight into how more effective [U.S.] policies can be formulated.”

I found this point interesting.  Bremmer’s theory predicts that countries that are not free, like North Korea, are stable for the mere reason that if its people were to see “20 minutes of CNN” they would revolt.  Likewise, free countries are stable because they’ve learned how to manage freedom (like the U.S. and much of Europe), but if they all found a reason to revolt they not only could, but would.

"It is when a transition towards freedom is attempted, or taken away, that instability occurs", says Dr. Bremmer.

At home, you can clearly see how our government’s desire to legislate every aspect of life here in America can lead to a loss of freedom – one statute at a time.   Elsewhere, you can also see the affect information filters have had on the Arab Spring and other uprisings.

I doubt the early developers of the Information Age clearly realized the negative affect that an all-knowing knowledge super-structure would, and could radically affect the world with such rapid speed.

While we all appreciate our Internet, and its toys, it is easy to see how with “filtering agents” things could go wrong if concentrated in the hands of self-interest.

About Ed DeShields

Last week: Truth or Consequences



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