One of the difficulties with the idea of user-centric identity on the Network is that it simply reverses the polarity on a binary opposition, accepting all assumptions. Internet identity is system-centric, or rather it is systems-centric— well, let’s reverse that and move the power over identity from the systems to the user. Of course, the user has no computing infrastructure with which to manage and exercise this new power over her identity. A new set of systems, which we will not call systems, will be created to allow the user to wield this new-found authority.
However, it’s the reductionism of the word “centric” that may be at the root of the problem. The word “identity” implies a singular subject. Much of the user-centric identity vision is the use and re-use of a single identity in multiple contexts. An identity that can remain mostly hidden, with only the bits sticking out that are required for any particular transaction. Of course, this also creates a single point of failure. An identity that fails, or is intentionally corrupted, removes one from the Network. But in the end, it may simply turn out that the user isn’t “centric” at all.
It’s perhaps in the American experiment that the fluidity of the individual reaches a new historical state. What I might be, is undetermined. What I am, is a multitude. Poets might understand this by reading Walt Whitman. Scientists might understand it by considering the metaphor of quantum superposition. We are simultaneously and contradictorily many different selves. These are not masks, or personas, we put on one after another— the new mask a clean replacement of the previous one. The multitude is created because each mask remains when the next one is assumed. One can easily become lost while looking for a single center.
The past and present wilt–I have fill’d them, emptied them.
And proceed to fill my next fold of the future.
Listener up there! what have you to confide to me?
Look in my face while I snuff the sidle of evening,
(Talk honestly, no one else hears you, and I stay only a minute longer.)
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
I concentrate toward them that are nigh, I wait on the door-slab.
Who has done his day’s work? who will soonest be through with his supper?
Who wishes to walk with me?
Will you speak before I am gone? will you prove already too late?