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Tag: identity

Swear to tell the truth

I attest

I work in the financial services industry and have securities licenses that require continuing education. I recently completed an annual compliance training and at the end of the web-based session, in order to receive credit, I had to click on a button that said: “I attest.” This is the first time I’d encountered that verb on a button.

A definition of to attest goes like this:

to bear witness to; certify; declare to be correct, true, or genuine; declare the truth of, in words or writing, esp. affirm in an official capacity: to attest the truth of a statement.

John Hancock\'s signature

When I click a button that says “I attest,” I’m not agreeing to a contract as with the clicking of “I agree,” I’m certifying and bearing witness that some set of statements is true. To me, this is something that seemed beyond the capability of the click of a button to convey. Bearing witness seems to suggest physical presence, a meeting of eyes and understanding. When I click a button there’s just me and the computer, the click sends some data across the Network. In this case, the data was an attestation of the truth.

Swearing to tell the truth

Bearing witness has historically required a verbal pledge or a wet signature on a document. The idea of the electronic signature has been around for years with little or no traction. Everyone thinks it’s a good idea, and it would help tremendously with the workflow of business documents, but no one actually owns a usable electronic signature. The question of the signature is really a question about identity and presence. What does it mean to attest to something as an authenticated user of a particular system?

When I attest to the truth of some set of statements, generally I do so before the whole world by making a mark (my signature) that affirms my identity and expresses my claim. Or in the presence of proper authorities, I raise my hand and verbally assert the truth of the statements to follow. Can I do that by clicking on a button on a web page?

As the live web gets closer and closer, as solutions for identity on the Network start to solidify, I can’t imagine that clicking a button that says “I attest” will be sufficient. Bearing witness requires presence and connection in real time. Of course, understanding what it means to speak the truth, to swear to tell the truth, is another matter altogether.

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One Key, Offline and Online, to Open All the Doors

Many keys on a key ring

When I was in high school, I used to have long conversations with the principal in his office. I wasn’t there because I’d misbehaved, I sought him out because he was one of the most interesting people in the school. It was a K through 12 Alternative School, so there were lots of interesting people around.

One afternoon we got to talking about keys. I said that the janitor seemed to be one of the most powerful people in the school. He had a key ring with what looked like a hundred keys. This appeared to give him access to all the locked doors on the premises. The Principal smiled and pulled out a key from his pocket. “This key,” he said, “opens every door in the school.” Now that’s a powerful key.

That’s the vision that haunts the internet identity movement — one key to rule them all. But is one key the right number? We have more than one key in our offline lives. We mitigate risk by having different kinds of keys. The key to my car can only be duplicated by the manufacturer. My house key can be duplicated by the hardware store down the street. I give copies to close friends, in case I lose my set. Keys are access tools, they don’t correspond to identity or personas in the offline world.

Would I really want one key that I could use to access everything in my life — both online and offline? How many keys should I have? One way to answer the question is to say, the right number of keys is determined by the size of my pocket.

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My Identity is a Sledgehammer

My Head was a Sledgehammer by Richard Foreman

Perhaps the problem with online identity is with the word itself. The word carries a big payload, Freud might say it’s overdetermined, in the same way as a dream image. And as we chase online identity, we go charging down corridors to find a hall of mirrors.

The theater and writing of Richard Foreman forced its way into the conversation as I tried to deepen the question. Especially his play “My Head was a Sledgehammer,” and this bit of dialogue:

In  a certain play entitled “My Head Was a Sledgehammer,” a certain character falls deeply in love with his mirror image, although his mirror image doesn’t resemble him in many important ways. But is a much more beautiful image…

Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) is the intersection of a world filled with ambiguity and a world purged of ambiguity. Encoding identity and attempting to make all its attributes visible, discrete and parsable is a form of extreme technological optimism with a hidden set of metaphysical assumptions.

Ben Brantley, in his review of Foreman’s play says:

Ultimately, there are no concrete answers in this endlessly mutating universe. Mr. Foreman, as always, seems far more interested in journeys than in destinations, in the intransitive rather than the transitive. And if “Sledgehammer” has a moral, it seems to be that to try to reduce life to a formula is to deny its confounding multiplicity.

When we wade out from the shallow waters we promptly get out of our depth. When we think of online identity perhaps we need something simpler. I’m me, and my online identity is a sledgehammer I use for certain tasks.

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Internet Identity Workshop 6: Cinema Verite

Here are some moments from the Internet Identity Workshop 6 in Mountain View, California. The event is being held at the Computer History Museum. This is an early experiment with capturing video using the Flip Video camera.

The Opening Session: Welcoming Newbies to the Community

Day Two: Setting The Session Agenda for the Unconference

Day Two: Wrapping up the Sessions

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