How identity is adapting to a changing (online) world

With all the continuous – technological and systemic – changes happening around us, combined with the brutal social and environmental challenges that are facing humanity, it’s pretty logical that humans are redefining their roles, relationships and sense of self within this new context.

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November 4, 2022

So we see people rethinking their identity and their relationship with others and the world, while at the same we see time tech companies that are investigating how users will be able to identify themselves in this new world.Identity is big new era of change today and this is how it is evolving:

Personal identity

People are increasingly questioning what defines them as an individual, and what they are in relation to their network and context. What is my gender? What is my sexuality? What is my culture? My nationality? What is my relation to nature? To society? What are intelligence and sentience and should we only attribute these to humans? Should I let myself be defined by my work? Am I an accountant or do I just “do” accounting? Is my online self different from my offline self (which will become even more relevant in the metaverse) or should they be the same?

Quite a few traditional people seem annoyed by the “wokeism” that goes hand in hand with some of these pretty fundamental questions. But I think it’s pretty special that we are redefining the status quo in all of these domains. The traditional interpretations tended to be narrowly binary and little nuanced anyway. Questions and choices are good. Resetting our default setting when our context is evolving is normal. There’s no need to feel threatened by these changes.

And we do see an increased number of companies complying to these shifts in perspective. Google, for instance, has been adding labels to help searchers easily find businesses from people with a certain identity, like LGBTQ-led, Asian-owned, Latino-owned or veteran-owned businesses. MIT Technology review recently published a gender issue, “Beyond the binary”, in August of this year (2022), researching the effect of biological sex on the immune system, gender neutral emoji, unnatural childbirth, and the fight for “Instagram face”. And tackling questions like: “Why can’t tech fix its gender problem?” or “Will sex become irrelevant to baby-making?”. Disney, then, is removing “gender greetings” from its parks: visitors will no longer be addressed by “boys and girls” or “ladies and gentlemen.” And internet security firm Cloudfare dropped the controversial online forum Kiwi Farms known for targeting transgender people.

Data identity

With regards to our online identity, today, companies can pretty much measure what they want and then use that information to ‘nudge’ us in certain directions that are not always necessarily to the user’s advantage. Yes, there are some laws to protect us but this domain is still mostly the wild west. And so we enter the narrative of Web3 - and Web 3.0 (no, they are not the same and here’s why) - where users will finally be able to own, guard and manage their own data - be it in a blockchain-based crypto wallet (Web3) or a Solid pod (Web3.0) - in a way that protects their identity, privacy and even their freedom.

Our online identities are currently mostly open to all, but many companies are now investigating ways to help us identify ourselves in different, more private and secure ways.

There are some pretty radical identity experiments out there at the moment, like Worldcoin and their shiny orb that generates a unique piece of code on the blockchain on the basis of a retina scan. But we also see really interesting cases like UK-based Zamna which organizes secure identity and health data for aviation. Meta, has also officially launched its new metaverse ID-system which it calls Meta accounts and Meta Horizon Profiles, though it seems not to be using the Web3 format. It is actually just ditching the old way of logging on into its VR platform - via personal social media account logins of Facebook and Instagram - after complaints around privacy concerns arose.

As the connectivity of our world increases, online identity will only grow in importance: just think of all the biometrics data that will be available in a smart home, smart city and smart body environment (by which I mean all types of devices monitoring our (mental) health). Especially now that the Matter standard is finally here: the connectivity standard from the ‘Connectivity Standards Alliance’ (272 total members, among which Apple, Google, Samsung, and Amazon ) that enables different smart-home products and systems - from smart lights to speakers to fridges - to all work with one another, regardless of their brand. These types of mass interoperability frameworks - which will also surface in the metaverse at one point – where many players will share our data, will only make guarding our identity all the more important.

Laurence Van Elegem
Laurence Van Elegem
Laurence has more than 10 years of experience in marketing, communications and disruptive innovation. Passionately curious, she is fascinated by the impact of technology and science on the way we work, consume and live our lives.
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November 4, 2022