Monthly Archives: October 2006

Identity Implies Relationship

Over the past few years I have read about and sometimes participated in many discussions about the One True Meaning of Identity and related concepts. One such concept I have not heard discussed much is the, um, relationship between Identity and Relationship. It seems to me that the very notion of Identity implies Relationship, and that this perspective is significant and useful.

I will attempt to explain in what follows.

I am well aware that there are many attempts to define “digital identity” for use in computer systems that the definitions are not necessarily indended to correspond to normal human usage. There is, of course, the Identity Gang Lexicon, and also this excellent set of definitions pointed out by Dave Kearns. However, for my purposes here I am referring to the meaning of Identity in everyday human usage. There are many aspects of Identity in the dictionaries I have consulted, but I will summarize a base meaning of Identity as “anything that can be identified.” To identify something means to distinguish it from something else.

So, on a human language level, there must be something different between things (identities) or we could not identify them. So the arguments about “what if two digital identities are the same” is not in view here. Of course two objects may be blue — the characteristic of blueness does not identify them in that context and two digital identities that consist of the statement “color = blue” would be the same. But for us to talk about the two blue objects, there must be something different about them or we couldn’t talk about them. We couldn’t identify them if we could not distinguish them — if something wasn’t different.

But the act of identifying something is a link between two things — two Identities. I identify you. In all of the discussion above I used terms like “we” and “us” — the identifying end of the identification link.

I know these notions may sound rather abstract and silly, but it seems to me that it follows that an Identity is something involved in a Relationship — the act of identifying is the beginning of a simple relationship.

In my day job I work more with code and processes than philosophy, so why does this matter to Bandit?  I think it matters because it follows that identity systems are for managing relationships. My relationship with my bank account, and with my employer, and my friends via email, etc.

Managing relationships with the largest number of identities in my networked world implies interoperability, and, in my opinion, necessarily involves heterogenous environments, open standard protocols, and open source implementations.  If all these things were not true for HTTP, WordPress, etc., we could not be sharing these thoughts. We could not be having this relationship. Of course, you must decide whether that’s a good thing or not for this post.