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Can Digital Identities Fix the Internet and the World Around It?

The digitization of identityShutterstock

Proving who we are used to be a pretty straight-forward affair, or as Popeye the Sailor Man used to say: I am what I am and that’s all that I am. The increasing digitization of our lives, however, doesn’t tolerate this naive attitude any longer.

In meatspace, as they say, we’re all individuals. What an individual actually is, is so fundamental to the human experience that we describe it as just that: “that which can’t be further divided” - an individual. However, the Internet seems not to share this basic human intuition. In Cyberspace there are no individuals, only user accounts, IP addresses, memory slots, and cryptographic keys. In this sense “proving who you are” on the internet makes as much sense as trying to describe the smell of the color yellow. The only thing that can ever be proven is the validity of strings of characters we use as passwords and keys.

Up until a decade ago, this used to be enough. Participation in the digital space was semi-voluntary, with e-mail services and the occasional e-bay account at stake. The absence of the individual from the internet was more of a feature than a bug, which granted us a very welcomed sense of anonymity and freedom. Today, with our financial, public and political lives moving more and more into a digitized mirror world of our own, the absence of the individual is beginning to inflict a pricy toll.

Without individual identity, there are neither individual rights nor accountability - which are the pillars of liberal democracy. We already have lost confidence in election results, news articles, reviews, and the humanity of entities we interact with (click here to prove that you’re not a bot, said the bot to the bot). If we won’t find a way to reintroduce the individual into our digital lives, this annoying reality might morph into outright dystopia.

So how could the internet be redesigned as a space in whic...

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