Discover more from John Philpin's Substack
Your Id Isn't Your ID.
Don't Let Them Suggest Otherwise.
I was born in Germany, but I am not German in any way. I have only ever held a British passport and documents were signed within days of my birth to ensure that I would become a ‘A Subject of Her Britannic Majesty’. I have papers. I can prove ‘who I am’.
Then again for as long as I can remember, I have also described myself as English, which since England is part of the United Kingdom, is not at odds with my official papers, so we have consistency. But I can’t actually prove I am English. Nobody can, it’s an opinion. In fact, maybe I am really Welsh? My last name, Philpin, is a Welsh name predominately linked with Pembrokeshire in South West Wales and specifically Tenby. (I once had stats that revealed that there were substantially more ‘Philpin’s’ living in Pembrokeshire, South Wales than in the rest of the entire world.) I even lived in Wales for two years when I was younger, but have never - ever - thought of myself as Welsh.
I also haven’t run a DNA test but I know enough about my family history to know that the Welsh are in my blood, probably some Irish and most certainly an element of Flemish, but it is really unclear how much of my DNA can be attributed to England. All that said. I don’t care. As some wag once said it … ‘being English is just a state of mind’.
And this all leads up to this week’s topic - IDENTITY (coincidentally at the core of The People First Business Equation).
Identity is hard to define, because it means so much to so many, with scant agreement, even amongst the ‘cognoscenti’. And they’re on the same team!
Case in point, a couple of weeks ago I sat in on a session at the IIW, which was focussed on building agreement as to what that community means when they use certain words. The Internet Identity Workshop is nearly 15 years old and yet the one term that everyone agreed in the room that we didn’t agree on was … ‘Identity’!
Meanwhile three years ago at an earlier IIW, where similar discussions were on the agenda, I read this poem to everyone at the conference. It was well received (I mean, who wouldn’t love it) - but I know it didn’t get through because the IIW irony continues.
By the numbers there’s my driver’s license,
car registration, license plate, zip code,
various accounts, street address, birthdate
home, work, and cell phones, passport, credit cards
debit cards, PINs, social security
frequent fliers, internet passwords, stocks
checking, HMO, IRA, museums
library card, land and enneagram.
I know its a lot to remember, but
thank god i finally know who I am.
… Jim Woessner, Box Poems (Buy The Book On Amazon)
The Technical Bit
You are forgiven if you don’t know the Sovrin Foundation, but to quote their web site they are … ‘the most widely recognized, vendor-agnostic international non profit for advancement of self-sovereign identity, supporting the largest community of SSI developers and projects in the world.’ I know right? Who knew?
“Information that enables a specific Entity to be distinguished from all others in a specific context. Identity may apply to any type of Entity, including Individuals, Organizations, and Things. Note that Legal Identity is only one form of Identity. Many technologies can provide Identity capabilities; the Sovrin Governance Framework defines one such system.”
But, what is identity? Where does it come from? Does our own sense of self match that seen by others and how does any discrepancy affect us? Is it just a projection of how we envisage ourselves to be rather than anything concrete?
That word ‘Identity’ covers a lot of ground, but Colin’s words resonated more than Sovrin’s and in many ways provided the genesis of this newsletter.
It is clear that people are so much more than the data that government and corporations seek to describe us with and by. Worse, most people think their identity as somehow ‘granted’ to them, forgetting that regardless of government/corporate papers to prove it - they do have an identity.
“Identity is subjective. It doesn't exist until some observer recognizes a subject. Only after that point of identification - even if that identification is just as "a red-shirt Star Trek character"- only then is there an identity.
… Joe Andrieu
… unless I have missed something really big I do believe that I couldn’t disagree more - and Joe is one of the good guys. Not only that, but this plays to the narrative that your identity is granted to you by others.
To be fair, the quote from Joe is out of context, coming from a tech thread where the topic was seeking to understand identity in the context of the online world. But that is the problem. Tech as a whole seems to be locked onto identity as something that can be proven and validated by a third party (Joe included), but to me, identity is human first and then we move to the proof of that using technology to support the position.
Until we really start to think that way, the hundreds of millions … into the billions of people in the world who are here, and exist and definitely have some kind of an identity, will be invisible. And it is the invisible people who are trafficked, become child soldiers, sold as sex slaves, used as slave labor … and worse. So yes, this is important and not some intellectual exercise.
It is totally wrong to think that I do not have an identity simply because someone else has not yet recognized and validated me.
The People First Identity Model
So, here goes nothing and before I reveal my model let me remind us all that
“All models are wrong, but some are useful”
… so discussion is important.
It is clear that at the very core of Identity there are four parts and my thesis is that any aspect of identity that we want to talk about can be mapped into one of more of those quadrants.
[A] Anyone on the planet can provide words that describe themselves qualitatively.
[C] Some will go on and add quantitative characteristics such as their eye color, age, height …
[B] They will have friends, colleagues etc who will either agree, disagree or add to that verbal descriptor …
[D] … and some of those entities will confirm your eye color, height …
The validation, verification, trust certificates and statements around that matrix is all to support proof of who you are to others. Necessary and essential, absolutely, but not core to ‘Identity’.
Do you agree? What do you think?
To end the topic and emphasize my point, I really hope Kyle (see video below) is an actor and not a real person. Would you change everything about yourself simply because some organization told you that you aren’t who you thought you were?
Many Thanks For Your Attention. Please do like the post, share through your social channels of choice and forward the email to colleagues, friends and family that want to join us on this journey. Even better, why not comment and let’s start a conversation. Most importantly my thanks to all of you for your support, emails and comments. I truly appreciate all of your support.