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?