Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Identity, Society, and Politics

I was reading Paul Hartzog's blog ( and his view on society, technology and politics.  Specifically, the "Panarchy" poster:

This got me thinking about Identity and the complexity of the Internet ecosystem and how hierarchical systems  for Identity might work for an organization but cannot be translated to "The Cloud"  So, lets frame the conversation by looking at the definition of some terms:

  • Politics: Social relations involving authority or power
  • Identity: Whatever makes an entity (such as an individual) definable or recognizable
  • Society: A group of individuals related to each other through persistent relations
Let's begin with Society and our current relations occurring online and face to face because of technology.  Prior to the communications revolution, societies were concentrated to a geographical area, therefore our Politics were confined to these geographical boundaries.   

Today, although still confined to a geographical area physically, our relations are much more complex.  We work online, we travel more often to places as far as around the world, faster and more frequently.  We spend time online with family in different areas of the world chatting "face to face."  Our Social relations are more complex and have moved ahead of our Politics.  Our economies are no longer confined to geographical markets, we transact online with everyone in the world.   The purchase of a product or a service is the collective work of individuals in several countries.

The hierarchy of most governments implies the acceptance of a set of norms that may not correspond to the sentiment of its citizens due to the accessibility of information.  We now know the difference between something that we want and something we don't want being enforced by a government.  Governments prefer to know who their citizens are (Identify them) to maintain their power hierarchies.  Prior to the communication revolution, government issued identification was important.  It helped social interactions that required to identify the validity of who a person claimed to be.  But in a complex system, such the Internet, hierarchies are not efficient, costly and almost impossible to control.    

Paul Hartzog writes in his poster (see image above), that we are seeing "the emergence of new forms of social action that function independently of and in parallel to traditional forms of the State."   Identity, of course, is part of the complexity, but a complexity that is currently leading to "self organization" (you have to look at the poster and read it).  

This Identity "self organization" can be seen on the different standard groups working on defining how to organize Identity in the Cloud.   Identity is no longer for (and by) the State, it is about an individual, their privacy and how they interact with other members of society.  It is not even about an organization (look at the interesting conversations about anonymity, pseudonymity and privacy happening because of Google+ policy on names).

These are interesting times for Identity, Society and Politics and thanks to Paul Hartzog I am going to call myself a "Panarchist" (it sounds cool!).

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Frank, and thx for the mention.

    We should be able to manage identity using a confederation of distributed Identity Brokers, similar to the way OpenID works for authentication. Identity brokers would get used by different communities to verify, store, and possibly even track information that users choose to share with others.

    Obviously, that overlapping and interpenetrated web of relations would constitutes a "panarchy."

    Exciting times ahead! :-)