Sunday, October 9, 2011

The fall of Official Identity

I think it's funny, I keep hearing about new measures for ID cards, when the system that supports them is dying. There are three things in motion right now that are undermining or system of official identities and that could cause major upheaval if we don't proactively seek to address them. 

To understand the first big threat, it helps to have ever had to establish yourself independently with a state ID authority (normally the DMV or MVA). In addition to providing documentation establishing who you are, you have to establish where you live. They normally have people do this by bringing official mail, bills, bank statements, etc. The problem with this is that most people have started to interact with the people who generate that mail online, and most of them want to help you "Go Green" (and save them money), by stopping to send you such mail. No longer receiving that official mail. Good luck proving that you live where you do, especially if you're living with a friend or somewhere where you don't have a lease. Oops!

The second threat is tied to the first. That's the impending collapse of the US Postal Service. Not only will it accelerate the first problem, just as the first problem accelerates it, but it prevents new interesting problems for the future. The USPS are generally the one of the main agents for officially recognizing addressing change. If you're still getting bills Fed-Ex'ed to you, what happen when you move to a new community or building that Fed-Ex doesn't understand yet, cause the database of valid addresses isn't being updated anymore? As long as your identity is established with mail, you need the USPS.

The third threat, and this is the big one, is what happens when people become long term nomads? Let me explain because this one is a little more complicated. Why do we maintain private residences? To hold our stuff, For recreations that require infrastructure, for a place to sleep, a place to be a family, and as a place with a Bathroom. So let's take a time to look at these motivations and see what's on the horizon.  

As my posts on media have probably let on, I'm a bit of a major consumer. But over the last few years, less and less of my spending results in the physical accumulation of more stuff. Most of the media I buy is bought digitally and with new cloud initiatives, I'm less likely to have to house infrastructure to make sure that I don't lose it. When my stuff other then furniture is just my clothes and the devices that I carry around all the time anyway there's a lot less of a motivation to invest in a location. And the seeming universal migration that everyone makes to college is going to have the younger generations realizing this sooner.  

The idea of having a hobby room or a media room appeals to a lot of people, but often this is what loses the space wars. In addition to that preferences in media consumption tend to make people want to be where they can consume the media they want. Well as the media goes digital and cable services start letting you view your content anywhere. You can view your media anywhere especially as technology to take what you've got in your pocket and put it on a big screen improve. Just like fitness rooms and laundry rooms, I could easily see dorms and apartment buildings of the future containing reservable media rooms, that are posh enough that they make up for the lack of space, which in addition to the media rooms, let them fit more people in that space. And eventually Hobby retailers will figure it out too. Someone will eventually setup a place as a perpetual con. They will have a store where you can by hobby paraphernalia setting where you can partake in your hobby, better then you could in your cramped  home, and even some storage space that you can rent to store your stuff. Plus while you're their they'll also sell you things for peripheral needs like food and/or for the late sessions a place to crash. And the best part is that these places help you connect with people with similar interests to you. 

As for the biological needs of sleeping and the bathroom. As people's use of their home becomes more and more dorm like, because they don't need space for stuff or hobby supplies, then there's not reason for there not to be a shift. Some people like Google already have fitness rooms and nap rooms at some of their locations, how long before employees that are at a remote site for a night or a month just crash there, even if the employees doesn't think of and provision for it first. So now you have people moving from college Dorms to corporate Dorms. When will these people ever change their permanent address to be anything other then their Parent's home?

Which finally brings us to having a family. So you've people who still list their home as their parents home, who have all the stuff they own that won't fit in a duffel bag and messenger bag at their parents home, and who will probably need help when it comes to day care anyway. Where are they going to go? If it's close enough they will probably just go to their Parents home. Which isn't so far fetched a thing, for a lot of our history there have been familial homes. And if we're spending most of our adult lives as vagabonds, why not? The only problem is that some familial homes will be inconvenient. And the answer to that is new ones being established. Or maybe your aunt, uncle, or childless older friend will invite you in as family. 

And the problem with being a long term nomad who spends decades of their life are marginally tied to any one residence isn't establishing official identity, it's with what happens when your official identity doesn't match your actual one. What happens when you're a "resident" of New York, spending all your professional time in California? Who get's to tax you? Who do you get to vote for?  and how is a jurisdiction supposed to afford the infrastructure it's residents need if none of them officially live there?

So we are heading towards a world where it is getting hard to establish official identity and one in which it easier to maintain one that isn't an actual reflection of reality. We're approaching a world in which it's easier for people to be transient, but in which our funding of infrastructure, governmental representation, and maintaining official identity is based on not being inherently transient. And what happens when a person finds themselves untethered, with a place to sleep and job, but no real home and no way to establish an identity? A lot of the assumptions that have built modern America were reflective of the time but not really the past, or perhaps the future. So do we work to preserve those assumptions or try to fin a better set?

And the most important question, as is the question with all inevitable change is will we act now when we can be thoughtful and have time to innovate, or will we wait until we are at the moment of crisis?

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