Science fiction is one of the most important and interesting genres of storytelling that we have. Its strength lies in the ability to be a little more on-the-nose than normal and make its own obviousness easier to swallow by transposing the story to a future world that somewhat resembles our own. This isn’t us, but it could be. This isn’t actually how oppressive our world is right now – or is it? We’re not actually living in a simulation – or are we? A common theme found in sci-fi is the idea that people are nothing more than numbers in a giant system that lets them exist so that it can exploit them. Barcodes to be scanned, numbers to be punched.
One very sci-fi sounding idea that already exists is the idea of digital identity. Your digital identity can be defined as who you are online. Everything posted about you, both by yourself and by others, whether it’s true or not. Every brand, movie, band, TV show, restaurant, or sports team page that you like on Facebook or follow on Twitter. If someone (such a potential employer) Googles you, what will they find? Whatever they find is your digital identity. It’s your reputation and interests made tangible. But if you’re plugged into the internet at all, it can be hard to control.
The current generation (mine) is growing up with a unique dilemma that no one else has yet faced. Social interactions have been generally limited to direct in-person communication and if something was written down it was either intended to be read by only one or two other people or else it was supposed to be seen by many people. There wasn’t a lot of in-between on that. Nowadays, it’s easy to let the line blur between private and public. When you post on your buddy’s Facebook wall that you wanna hang out, you’re essentially standing in a room full of everyone you’ve ever met and shouting across everyone else to your friend. Not only that, but you know all the dumb little conversations your average day has? If you’re typing it, it’s stored away somewhere, theoretically forever. It’s a weird way to communicate.
This leads to interesting side effects. Assuming you behave in mostly the same way online that you do off, it’s remarkably easy for third parties to figure out who you are. Not in a “we know your name and where you live” kind of way but more of a “we know what you like to eat for lunch and what you’re going to buy next and who you have a crush on.” This isn’t as sinister as it sounds; for the most part, they just want you to give them your money. And honestly, if I’m going to look at ads, I’d rather see ads for things I might actually want to buy.
The inconvenient and more invasive side of this has recently come into play with the way many potential employers have treated social media. Recently, employers started demanding that job candidates hand over login credentials to their Facebook accounts as part of the interview process. While this was swiftly made illegal in many states, it doesn’t stop them from looking at what is publicly accessible. And while there’s nothing wrong with the HR department taking a look at your Twitter, having a social media presence is so normal these days that not having one is also considered – perhaps unfairly – a red flag by many. The assumption is that people who choose not to share their lives on Facebook or Twitter are hiding something. This will likely be a passing fad as older generation bosses who aren’t quite sure how to handle new digital trends are replaced by millennials. But for now, digital identities are taking root and becoming akin to something like a credit score; you need to have it to be allowed to do certain things, but it should also be managed wisely.