Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Then and Now -- Identity

My few readers may be wondering if and when this series is ever going to end.  Just humor me for a few more posts and then I will either take another break or move on.
Today I am pondering who we are and what control we have over our identities.  The answer to that has definitely changed over the past 50 years.
When I was a child, who ever heard of identity theft?  Occasionally you might hear of someone pretending to be someone else who had died, but stealing someone’s VISA number didn’t occur because no one had a VISA card.  Many people didn’t have a Social Security number so that couldn’t be easily stolen either.  For a lot of us our birth certificates or driver’s licenses were our only proof of identity.
Fast forward to today where we have multiple charge cards and we exist in countless databases because of our employment, memberships, purchases, activities, etc.  There are many more ways to pretend to be someone else.
Not to mention our Internet presence.  In fact it has become very difficult for a person to hide with things like Facebook and the various people-finders out there.  What has become a genealogist’s dream has become a personal nightmare for people who don’t want to be found.
Other than making us much more vulnerable to identity theft and becoming a time sink for social networking, this change has probably been a positive one.  George Orwell’s 1984 has in effect come to be without necessarily all the negative consequences.
I did hear just yesterday that a running Camcorder was discovered in the bathroom of the Starbucks I often frequent on Capitol Hill.  That’s just a little too up close and personal for me...


Blogger e said...

I have had the unfortunate experience of being asked by a representative of a federal agency to prove that I was who I claimed to be...This was in the days before Facebook and the lot of so-called people finders existed.

Despite my social security card and birth certificate, I was put through countless questions until I could satisfactorily be excluded from his enquiry.

Since that time, I have encountered dozens of people with my same name and initials from all over, one of the perils of having a common name.

12:42 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

E -- How scary! So the question is whether it would be easier or more difficult to prove your identity today? (Assuming your experience was some years ago...)

12:45 PM  
Blogger Cyndy said...

I've been enjoying your series very much. I think it's interesting how the quantity of internet presence can vary so much from one individual to the next. The lack of privacy can be a little unnerving sometimes but that's what happens when you participate in just about anything online these days. It's difficult to remain obscure.

1:59 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Cyndy -- You are right about how differently people view the Internet. The way I see it is if you are going to play on this playground, you might as well have a name. It's hard to hide in the shadows.

5:46 PM  
Blogger Steve Reed said...

I think people who want to remain anonymous and/or invisible can still do so. I've tried to find numerous friends from my past using today's social networking tools (as well as Google) and they're just not out there. I suspect they want to stay hidden, and I can respect that.

I, on the other hand, figure I have nothing to hide. I like the ease of the Internet. Identity theft and fraud are concerns, but I think if you keep your finances simple (ie only have one credit card) and don't wantonly disclose secure information you'll be all right.

7:39 AM  

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