Personal = Sovereign

We are all different.different

We look different, we sound different, we think and act different. Even soldiers marching lock-step in uniform are all different. Emperor Qui Shi Huang recognized this fact by having his sculptors put a different face on every soldier in the terracotta army.

Even identical twins are not identical.

Devon Loffreto has a useful word for this state. He calls it sovereign. Here are a few of his posts on the matter:

I wrote about it here:

For as long as we’ve had identifiers in computer and network system namespaces, we have been talking about administrative identities, not sovereign ones.

All administrative identities are silo’d: isolated inside systems and their namespaces. The Internet, which cyber-utopians (me included) cheer for its decentralized peer-to-peer and end-to-end architectural graces, has become a vast forest of centralized systems, each a silo. This Great Silo Forest is a hall of administrative mirrors. Your reflection in each is not you, but an administrative version of you.

Want a sense of how bad this is? Go into your browser prefs and hunt down the place where your logins and passwords are kept. Every one of those login/password combinations is for a different you, that each different system knows separately, owns separately and controls separately.

The concern in that post is identity. That’s personal, but so is much else: personal spaces, personal possessions, personal preferences, personal relationships and so on. What do we mean by personal in each of those cases?

In the physical world, the meaning is obvious, and the usage so common that we use the pronouns my and mine. But in the virtual world the boundaries are not so clear. Is the data a company collects about me really mine?

Yet we need to develop better  understandings, better definitions, better vocabularies — before the norms of the still-young virtual world catches up with the physical one, where civilization has been around for millennia.

I heard last night from a colleague that a word gaining currency with some young people is sovereign. In the past it was a word that applied mostly to countries and governments. Says the Free Dictionary,

adj.

1. Self-governing; independent: a sovereign state.
2. Having supreme rank or power: a sovereign prince.
3. Paramount; supreme: Her sovereign virtue is compassion.
4. a. Of superlative strength or efficacy: a sovereign remedyb. Unmitigated: sovereign contempt.

Since so much of what we do as persons in the virtual world was once do-able only by large organizations (computing and networking, for example), this makes sense.

And, given our much our personal spaces and our agency have been compromised, sovereignty is a state devoutly to be wished for.

Here is how Chris Locke put it in The Cluetrain Manifesto, fifteen years ago:

we are not seats or eyeballs or end users or consumers. we are human beings and our reach exceeds your grasp. deal with it.

While privacy is a huge concern, and something about which VRM developers have much to offer, it tends also to be understood in defensive terms.  Sovereign is more positive, and has a great deal of dignity as well.

So I’m rooting for it.

1 Comment

  1. Yeah. Or: enlightened. Emancipated. It’s about agency, self-determination. But yes – we need that shift in vocab (as Craig has consistently said). The privacy campaigners were the canary in the coalmine; first to spot the problem, and we love them for it. But it’s economic and political people power that will prevail. Go Doc!

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