[Dave Birch] Bankwatch reminded me to finish this post.  Some research in the US has confirmed the anecdotal evidence that young persons who forget their MySpace password are just as likely to make a new account as fret over their lost friends or painstakingly constructed homepage decorations.  The research, by Danah Boyd, indicates that this behaviour is representative of a more general attitude, that  ‘many teens are content (if not happy) to start over with most of their accounts in most places’, and she has noted that for young people an online profile is ‘not seen as something to build an extensive identity around, but something to use to talk to friends in the moment’.  As Bill Thompson pointed out, maybe it’s another age-related disconnect.  I don’t go as far as Bill in having the same login name for every service I sign up for, but I do select from a very small set of lgin names (work-me, home-me, nice-blog-me, nasty-blog-me and so forth) but perhaps kids are simply extending the natural teenage experimentation with identity into the virtual world.

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We need to build general-purpose identity solutions that can cope with these kinds of one-the-fly, transient and even pseudonymous identities as well as persistent identities.  That’s why I think the right digital identity models are those in which the industrial age one-to-one mapping between the person and an identity is understood as a niche and not as the paradigm.  As was well-put on Ideal Government recently, multiple identities are part of the solution, not part of the problem of information age identity.  As Sam Smith says, "one account and one account only for individuals mandates total transparency from the citizen. It requires complete faith in government. It discourages any transparency on the part of that Government. That’s not very balanced, is it?"

As has already been discussed here, e-mail addresses are already a sort of proto- multi- digi- pseudonym-based identity system and many people have such multiple identities and they can’t all be criminal terrorist masterminds.  The fact of the matter is that when I’m being the webmaster of my son’s football club I am not the same person as when I am being the organiser of the Digital Identity Forum  This latest research shows that young persons who have grown up in an online world do not even understand why anyone would question multiple online identities and, while part of this attitude may well be ascribed to the entirely normal process of self-discovery through the teenage years, I am convinced that it represents a deeper connection with the dynamics of the future society and economy.  Normally, I am much against listening to teenagers about anything — least of all the future of society — but in this instance their revealed preferences may be a more accurate guide than our "common sense" view of identity.

My opinions are my own (I think) and are presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public.
[posted with ecto]


  1. I wonder whether this behaviour will carry on into the professional sphere. How will teenagers cope with a transition to having professional online identities? I’m really interest to see whether the information that is put online as a youth, is maintained as an adult. It could either be the most treasured memories, or a hindrance to future employment? Hmmmmm….what will happen?

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