Identity 2.0: The Decentralization of Identity

We embark on a journey to personality: What does identity mean? How do we move from analogue to digital identity? On the way there, we illuminate historical concepts of identity until we arrive at the topic of digital identity and blockchain – and can ask ourselves: Who and how will we be?

The decentralization of the Bitcoin loophole

Let us remember part 1 of this series: At the time of the Enlightenment, certain schools of thought saw identity as the solid core of individuals. An unchangeable quality, therefore, which gives people a clear Bitcoin loophole centre. However, this point of view would soon change. The “core” of man was to be understood as mobile, as something in flux. And thus in a certain sense: decentralized.

The news spy becomes decentralized

At first, there was the news spy in this context between an inside and an outside of identity. Especially in the sociological (G.H. Mead, C.H. Gooley), but also in the psychological (Sigmund Freud, Jacques Lacan) context, the opinion prevailed in the 19th and 20th centuries that there are basically two different the news spy ways in which people “maintain” their identity. Thus, depending on the line of thought, there is an “inner” and an “outer” identity.

The external identity is formed in the sociological context in the relationship to the environment. Through contact with family, teachers and cultural institutions, we learn values, norms and conventions that shape our (external) identity. This “external” identity is therefore no longer an unchangeable core, but is formed in the interaction of man and environment. These formations also have influence on the inner identity, the character, the ways of thinking and internalised patterns of behaviour.

The stories we tell
Towards the end of the 20th century, the concept of the narrative became important – the story(s) we tell about ourselves. Stuart Hall, for example, one of Britain’s leading cultural theorists, assumed that we do not have a fixed core as identity, but that identity depends on the contexts in which we find ourselves and to which we move.

Shakespeare wasn’t the only one who made a fuss. Actually, we all play theatre – every day.
In this context Erving Goffmann used the concept of social roles based on theories from theatre theory. He assumed that one assumes different roles in different social situations and contexts. Depending on how one wants to work and what impression one wants to make on people in one’s environment, one behaves differently. So at work you certainly behave differently than in the familiar circle of the family, while with friends you probably have other conversations than with the grandmother. Whether this happens consciously or unconsciously does not play a role in this observation – one works, lives and speaks differently – depending on the context.

In this context, identity cannot be seen as something fixed, unchangeable or even a core. Rather, it is an alternating play of inside and outside, of self-perception and external perception, composed of many different moments.

Here one remembers the quotation of Mark Zuckerberg from the first part. His statement about the lack of integrity in several identities can thus be regarded as extremely doubtful. But as we will learn in the next parts, the idea behind this is the centralization of data. More on this in the next week.