Identity systems, failing to communicate

There is a classic scene in Cool Hand Luke where the prison warden (Strother Martin), says to the handcuffed Luke, (Paul Newman), that he doesn’t like it when Luke talks to him as an equal. So, to teach a lesson, the warden smacks Luke hard, sending him rolling down a hill. The warden then says to the crowd of prisoners below, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”

That’s also what we’ve got with login failures on the Web. Case in point: In response to The Illusion of the Gifted Child in Time, I tried posting this comment:

Standardized education and testing both deny that which makes us most human: our differences, as individuals, from everybody else. Whitman said it best: “I was never measured, and never will be measured… I know this orbit of mine cannot be swept by a carpenter’s compass… I know that I am august. I do not trouble my spirit to vindicate itself or be understood. I see that the elementary laws never apologize.” Standardized schooling cannot respect any of that.

As the great teacher John Taylor Gatto put it, genius in children is common, not exceptional. Thus the job of the teacher is not to fill empty heads with curricula, but to remove whatever “prevents a child’s inherent genius from gathering itself.” The first thing to remove (which Gatto did, year after year, winning awards along the way), is standardized schooling. Or at least framing our understanding of education in standardized terms. We’ve been in that box so long we can no longer think outside of it. Yet we must. For lack of thinking outside that box, we ruin kids.

When I was a kid, my mother taught in the same school system, and had access to my text scores. Between those and others, my IQ score had an eighty point range, from very smart to very dumb. Those scores showed that there is no such thing as “an IQ.” It also suggested that giftedness has little or nothing to do with test scores, and may not be something schools can deal with at all. My own gifts didn’t appear until after college, and all the achievements for which I am known came after I was fifty.

All of us are profoundly unique. Even identical twins, split from the same egg, are complete, separate and distinct individuals with independent souls. School teaches otherwise. And that’s the problem. Not the parents, and not the kids.

I failed to post that, which is why I’m posting it here. But my point is about digital identity, which is is no less fucked up in 2013 than it was in 1995, when the Web went viral.

What’s fucked up about identity is that every site and service has its own identity system. None are yours. All are theirs, all are silo’d, and all are different. For this we can thank the calf-cow model of client-server computing, and we are stuck in it. That’s why we are forced to remember how we identify ourselves, separately, as calves, to many different cows, each of which act like they’re the only damn cow in the world.

When I attempted to post the comment above under the essay at Time, I was given a choice of social logins (Twitter, Facebook, etc.), plus Time‘s own. Not remembering if I ever created an identity for myself (or, actually, for Time) at that site, I chose to log in with Twitter. This should have worked, given the expectations we all have with “social” login. But it didn’t work, because Time still required an email address to go with the login ID. When I provided the email address I use with Twitter, Time said the address was taken. When I tried another email address, it said that one was taken too. Then I guessed that maybe I had already used one of the handles (login+email A or email B) I had just attempted, as a login with Time. So I tried several new combinations. All failed.

There are two main difference between this failure and Luke’s with the warden: 1) machine programming does the smacking, and 2) no lessons are taught to the rest of the prisoners.

This is a design issue, and it’s as old as computing. It’s called the namespace problem. Every system has its own namespaces, and getting different systems’ namespaces to work together is very hard. Maybe impossible. After all these years (hell, decades), it damn sure looks that way.

I believe, as do more many others, that the only solution is for those with the damn names to be in charge of those names, and to identify themselves in their own ways to the many different systems that require putting those names in their namespaces.

In a blog post last year, Devon Loffreto in Moxy Tongue laid out Why sovereign source authority matters. He was right then and he’s right now. So was Walt Whitman, quoted above in the failed comment to Time.  I believe sovereign identity is the only answer — or at least the only right place to start finding the answer.

I’ll be defending that position when we meet to talk about it, among lots of other subjects, in a couple weeks at IIW. If you’re interested, be there. It’t about time, doncha think?


  1. alan herrell’s avatar

    Don’t get me started on the Bigotry of sites like that requiring on of the ‘Social’ Identities as a gateway to participation. 18 trackers and miners on that page alone. Since I don’t face or tweet or link, I am immediately a second class person.

    Any other identity scheme needs to be able to create a large key that is unique but portable, so you can use it on any device you own.

    A Distributed checksum authority needs to be created to be able to validate this key. (Not unlike the DNS Rootservers) It should be a mutable key based on sunspot activity, the cost of tea in china or the last three lottery numbers, based on user chosen factors to create it.

    This key generator needs to ba able for users to regenerate as they change email/username/ and or pets hair color.

    I would finance it by clipping sites that have trackers a portion of their revenue from this activity. Triple for third party trackers.

    but hey that’s just me

  2. Devon’s avatar

    And so do I Doc…still… your post provoked me to read my own again after all this time… and I added a comment too…which I will add here, because I think sometimes people think this concept of controlling our own authority via identity in Society is farther out on the fringe than it really is.

    I teach kids how to code and build robots.

    Sovereign source authority is not an idea that entails running off to Montana and getting ready for the next Y2K. Sovereign source authority by Humans is the means by which we maximize the potential of both our Human experience, and our automated systems.

    Similarly, personal sovereignty is not a means of destroying National sovereignty, but of giving it fiber and integrity. Our systems can not supersede the authority of the Humans that give them integrity. And this is our current quagmire.

    We are mis-represented in the truest sense of the word, and it is the structure of our personal authority, as expressed by its administration as an IDentity that controls this.

    It needs attention… thanks for serving that cause Doc.

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