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Saturday, July 16, 2011


A couple of weeks ago my son lost his wallet. He immediately set about canceling cards and ordering new ones. He had to wait for replacements, so he went to the bank to deposit his latest check and get cash. They wouldn't give it to him. You see, he had no picture ID. They wouldn't give him cash if he didn't prove who he was. Getting picture ID was a week-long wait, so the suggestion was that he'd have to go without any money at all for a week. And that wasn't going to work for him. He had no ID. He was lost. It all worked out for him, but he found out that identification is important.

In the movie, Surrogates, people live in the future in surrogate bodies, automatons controlled by the individuals. The individuals don't actually go out in the world; they live out their lives through the robots they have out there. The movie starts out with a murder of two of these surrogates, a guy and a girl making out in a back alley. When the police seek out the actual users to find out what they know, it turns out that the voluptuous blonde victim was actually an oversize male user. His surrogate identity didn't come close to matching his real identity.

A quite common concept is the notion of self-identification. We self-identify in a myriad of ways. We identify ourselves as citizens of our nation and residents of the place we live. We identify ourselves as Christians or atheists as part of our own definition. We are what we do for a living or what we like. Popular today is the self-identification of sexual attraction, as if that defines who we are. (Oddly enough, I don't know too many heterosexuals who define themselves as heterosexuals except in contradistinction to homosexuals, but there is a "gay community" of self-identified folk defined by their attraction to others of the same gender.) We have lots of ways we identify ourselves.

Like my son without picture ID, however, these identities also seem suspect. We say we are X, but does that actually define who we are? And is it accurate? Does saying, "I'm a Christian", for instance, actually mean that you are? We know that Internet identifications are highly suspect. Like the fat man in Surrogates, you never really know if the person with whom you are interacting online is a female or a male, young or old, attractive or homely. And we seem to be slipping down this path with vigor. The social network has made it perfectly acceptable to be anonymous online. Role-playing games are designed to let you self-identify as something you are not. The fantasy self of gaming and chat rooms and the popularity of the Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) playgrounds have allowed us to set aside who we really are and identify ourselves as something we are not. Perhaps its something we want to be. Perhaps it's something we wish we were. Perhaps, in the anonymity of the environment, we can indulge things we'd never do in real life. And so it goes with so much of our own self-identification.

Whatever the cause, we are in the process today of losing our wallets. We've bought the notion that you are what you desire. We've embraced the idea that you can be whatever you dream. The distance between reality and fantasy is widening thanks to the digital world in which we live. Pretty soon we will lose all sense of a real identity. Then where will we get the funds on which to live?

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