13 February 2014

Who Are You?

by Eve Fisher

Who is that out there?  In cyber-space?  In the neighborhood?  Do you know who your neighbors are?
Or do you only think you do?  What kind of identification do you really need to survive these days?  Do you need any at all?

Example:  We have, as I have noted in the past, a number of little businesses here in South Dakota that provide South Dakota citizenship, driver's license, voter registration, mail service, etc., to anyone who's willing to pay what I consider a very modest fee - about $50.00 a month.  Used by people who want to RV around the country, or those who live in states with high state income tax (or any state income tax).  And also used by South Dakota citizens who don't want anyone to know their legal address.  So you meet someone, John Doe, and they give you their address, at 555 Main Street, Bwabwa, South Dakota.  Except that there are about 1500 people, at least, with that address.  You don't know where John Doe actually lives, where he was actually born, where he actually does anything at all...

Example:  Have you gone to a retirement center recently?  They all remind me of Miss Marple's disquisition on Chipping Cleghorn in "A Murder Is Announced":  "People just come - and all you know about them is what they say of themselves...  People who've made a little money and can afford to retire.  But nobody knows any more who anyone is.  You can have Benares brassware in your house and talk about tiffin and chota Hazri - and you can have pictures of Taormina and talk about the English church and the library ....  People take you at your own valuation." Sure, that distinguished looking grey-haired lady SAYS she used to be a judge, and she certainly knows her law.  But there's more than one way to gain an extensive knowledge of the law, and it's very hard to prove someone is or is not who they say they are.

Example:  The internet, awash in usernames that can't be traced - PaulZOmega may say he's a Biblical scholar, and hotchatony she's a retired grandmother in Gran Canaria, but you have no proof, and all the information can be gotten on the internet in about two minutes.  You can set up multiple e-mail identities, multiple Facebook identities, multiple anything identities, and never ever surface in your real persona.  How many of us have filled out every internet questionnaire accurately?  No fibbing?  No blanks?  (On Facebook, for example, I put down January 1, 1905 as my birthday.)  And while I know that hackers can find out who you are, who anyone is, and track them through all their more or less interesting internet life - I'm no hacker and I personally don't know any hackers.  I'm stuck - we're almost all stuck - dealing with avatars.

Now granted, someone is keeping track of our hits, our purchases, our likes, dislikes, political viewpoints, advertising preferences, television and movie rentals.  And billions of people are providing a constant stream of photos of themselves and their children in various stages of disarray, sickness, partying, playing, working, fooling around, and general silliness.  Not to mention tweets of their opinions, acid reflux, and shopping.  And yes, the government (every government, by the way, do not be fooled into thinking ours is the only one that does such things) is keeping tabs on the people (and always has been).

And yet, we are very much alone and anonymous.  We are an incredibly mobile people, moving for jobs, love, fear, whim, anger, fun, restlessness, rootlessness, and being fed up with the neighbors.  We live in a world without roots.  To return to Agatha Christie:  "Fifteen years ago one knew who everybody was...  They were people whose fathers and mothers and grandfathers and grandmothers, or whose aunts and uncles, had lived there before them.  If somebody new came to live there, they brought letters of introduction, or they'd been in the same regiment...  If anybody new - really new - really a stranger - came, well, they stuck out - everybody wondered about them and didn't rest till they found out....  But it's not like that any more."  No, it isn't.  Not in the 80% of the United States that's urban.  (I live in the 20% rural.)  Nobody stands out because everybody's a stranger:  THAT'S WHY THEY'RE THERE.

So, who are your neighbors?  And who are you?

8 comments:

Fran Rizer said...

Eve, I moved back into the home place about ten years ago when my mother wasn't able to live alone anymore, but she didn't want to move to my house. When I returned, I knew all of my immediate neighbors because they had been there since I was a child. As they die or go into retirement homes, we have more and more new neighbors, some who are happy to be welcomed to the neighborhood while others are extremely withdrawn.

Many years ago, my oldest aunt met a nice gentleman when she went into assisted living. He never had visitors, but he told her that was because both of his sons were doctors in California and couldn't get away from their patients to come to the east coast for visits.
They married and lived (apparently very happily) almost ten years before he died and she learned that he was estranged from his only child--a daughter here in SC.

We see reports on television of the many women who are so lonely they send their savings to fictitious men in Nigeria who have assured them of love and that with enough money, they will move to the US where the couple will live happily ever after.

TMI from me this iced-in morning. Thank heaven we have power, so I'll sign out and head for the coffee pot.

Robert Lopresti said...

Thought provoking. Oddly the thought it raised in me is about my wife's high school. She had a modern history teacher who used to subscribe to every radical newsletter he could find and bring them in for his students to read.

He swore that one day FBI agents showed up at his door. They said they had noted he subscribed to both Communist and neo-Nazi publications and politely asked which side he was really on. For their files, I suppose. Communist, he told them. They thanked him and left.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Eve, I can't deny the anonymity of city living. I've lived in my apartment since 1970 and have NEVER entered any of the other five apartments on my floor, though we do say hello in the hall and the elevator once in a while. The only one whose last name I know is a man, no longer young, who still lives in his parents' apartment. His sister Nancy used to babysit my son, who's now in his forties, but I'm ashamed to say I don't know his first name. My excuse is he lives at the other end of the hall, so I don't see his mail on the mat.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Oh, I take it back: I do know the name of my immediate neighbor, because I see her mail on the mat right next to mine. And her little dog's name is Phoebe, though we usually call her (the dog, not the neighbor) Squeak. New York is full of people who know hundreds of dogs by name but may not remember the names or faces of the people on the other end of the leash.

R.T. Lawton said...

Eve, a state agent and I were in the middle of making a buy from a couple of dealers when the doorbell rang. It was two men in suits from the Census Bureau. Seemed the undercover house I had rented was a target residence for the Census. In order not to break cover, the state agent and I answered all their census questions and finished the buy after the suits left. For that particular year, there are two fake names and sets of false background in their data. The two dealers didn't live in the house, so they politely waited in the other room listening. But of course we already knew who they were.
However, when it came to the criminal element, we ran into several false identities, some really good, until the fingerprints came back.

Eve Fisher said...

It's an interesting world. There was a brief period when it looked like it was going to get pretty hard to live without a government issued ID of some kind - but then I-phones changed that.

I know one of the things I miss from city-living is the anonymity. Here in my small town, everybody knows everybody and everybody's business. This is really irritating, except when you're sick or in need of some kind, and then it's wonderful.

And Fran, your aunt's husband is EXACTLY what I'm talking about. Nobody questions the stories that nice little old ladies and gentlemen tell about themselves...

Elizabeth said...

Funny you should bring up the topic of identity, Eve. Right now I'm in the middle of trying to sign up for New York State of Health, our version of Obamacare, and their computer is unable to recognize me. This is after sending them a scan of my N.Y. non-driver's ID a month ago as they requested. In order to get the ID, back in 2005, I had to submit six (6) proofs of identity ... so a non-driver's ID apparently is worthless, even to another agency within the same state.

The deadline to sign up is 3:00 p.m. the day after tomorrow. Obviously I'll miss it through no fault of my own. I have owned property in this state for nine years, have bank accounts here, etc. ??

My husband, who is not too bright sometimes, suggested that I sign up for Facebook & then I would have more of an online footprint. Yeah right. I do not want to be on Facebook & I doubt it would help anyway. Maybe I will look into those services in South Dakota ... LOL

Robert Lopresti said...

R.T. You know I'm a government document s librarian, right? This had me in hysterics. Would you mind if I put it on a list for gov docs librarians?

I hope you all know that 72 years after the census your answers become available to the world to see. This can lead to interesting situations, especially when writers are involved: http://file770.com/?p=8650