New technologies and challenges for personal identity
Coincidentally I found a picture of my soccer team when I was about 12 years old. Apart from nostalgia, I wonder how I am the same, having changed both physically and personally over the years. My identity, my “self” is in the coordinates of time and space. The photo has its date and space is the soccer field. In addition, this photo evokes a series of memories linked to this event. Another day I found some boxes with photos in a second-hand market. I look at them and they don’t evoke anything. Their time and space do not interest me. They are anonymous people to me.
As humans we need a personal identity. Each in its own way we have an identity. A complex phenomenon that distinguishes us from all other mammals. Although my two dogs have a name and when I call them, they come to me, they have no identity. You can be a dog without a name. The fact is that identity is a recent phenomenon. For thousands of years the mass was what was preponderant. Social identity begins due to economic imperatives, with state administration ‘categorising’ individuals from birth until death, and at all the stages in between. Individuality is born in the shadow of the administration and especially the state.
There is an identity of mine (self), which I do not fully control, is unconscious, my body which is and works autonomously, through my physiology, my hormones or the biochemistry of my brain. Also experiences that are no longer in my active memory. There is another identity of mine that is totally subjective, I think I am in a certain way, surely I deceive myself with thinking that I have more talent and more skills than I really have. It’s like that. Another identity is as others perceive me, which I rarely confirm, out of fear or ignorance. Another identity is what I would want to be. These identities converge and diverge depending on the moments or stages of my life. Without a doubt my identities relate in a different way to my environment. When I stand by a football match, I’m with my professional team, or my wife and I make a weekend getaway my self is deployed in different ways. I’m the same, but my identity is a plot with my surroundings. It is a dynamic network with a permanent feed-back. When in a person this dynamic system is blocked, transient or permanent mental disorders may occur.
The impact of the new technologies in personal identity.
In recent decades, the omnipresence of information and communication technologies and digitization together with the growing development in our society of biotechnology, Artificial Intelligence, automation and robotics and other innovations have a direct impact on our (self) identity that we still do not know of its scope. Especially when the personal ecosystem that has totally different dimensions of space and time than humanity has had for thousands of years, especially when the world of virtuality explodes in our hands and dizzying changes in our society lead us to a certain delirium of the self.
We must bear in mind that the creation of personal identity arises when there is an “exit from the usual self” by image or by emotion, to invent oneself. It’s action. It is an effort to restore self-esteem and to achieve some social recognition. If there is no self-esteem, you can fall into depression, if there is no social recognition, irritation, anger and self-despair arise. The drama is that self-invention for the imaginary is a luxury that not everyone can achieve.
Identity is a key element in our human activities. Threats to our identity, whether by hackers or human errors can destabilize us. Multiple episodes of “theft” of data create insecurity and feeling helpless. In turn, technologies allow us to use different identities in different contexts. The problem arises when we get lost in these multiple identities and we don’t really know who we are. Cases of bullying or “sexting” can traumatize for long periods. Also the difficulties in “erasing” our online activities, create distortions in our external image with impact on our own perception and self-esteem.
Virtual Worlds and Augmented Reality
For previous generations, the world is divided into real and virtual, in new generations there is only one world in which the virtual and the real are mixed without too many distinctions. The exponential increase in online gaming, virtual social spaces and the rapid circulation of our information through social networks, are changing the perception of ourselves and often an extreme dependence on the responses of others, measuring our reality with the number of “likes” or positive comments. If it happens otherwise it increases my insecurity. Especially the space of the reflective self dwarfs and is replaced by the opinion of others.
We are faced with the phenomenon that experts call “the generation that achieves with technologies “to be alone, never to get lost, never forget “, with a permanent connectivity that generates the “exoself” that needs to instantly share any experience or event with others, without having time to analyze and deepen.
Identity and privacy.
Our multiple physical or virtual activities generate a large amount of data, from the purchase in the supermarket, online shopping, the use of email, our communication by social networks, etc. Together with our ease in accepting any legal text that appears in the window of our electronic devices, they make it easy to trace that in some way defines how we behave . The progress of the “Learning machine” allows a traceability of our activities, the use of Smart Watches facilitates the traceability of our physical activity and part of our vital data.
Medicine and personalized health are not only about health but also about the expression of social identities. This function is increasingly prominent as preventive processes, diagnostics and improvement of precision medicine grow. Eating healthily and exercising, or not, are decisions that people make not only because of their health effects but also to maintain a certain social identity. Diagnostic medicine (and genomics) is expanding the medicalization of the concept of the self. Medicine is also increasingly focusing on the social identity and expression of our personality.
Robotics, Big Data and Artificial Intelligence call the door to our personal identity.
Perhaps it would be more appropriate to say that they throw the door to the ground. They’re already in our lives one way or another. Its growth is exponential, and our daily perception is negligible. In reality, its impact is more complex, as it involves a series of changes that will affect our identity in one way or another. Beyond catastrophic forecasts, with no basis but intuition often, the truth is that as the world of work is automated, there is a sense that our work as humans will undergo remarkable changes in the coming decades. For thousands of years, humans have based our identity largely on our role in the exercise of a job, whether in hunting, agriculture, industry or services and arts. The concept of work will be changed gradually, but irreversibly. The question is how we prepare to face this new paradigm, as well as the management of Big Data and Artificial Intelligence in everyday life, or to know how to protect our personal identity, or even better as we leverage these technologies to better structure our identity and have a better quality of life.
A separate mention is what we call human cyborgs. Although there is a lot of fantasy, the truth is that already today, many parts of our body can be replaced and functions of our organs can be outsourced or incorporated. Organ transplantation is already a classic, prosthetics, insulin pump, hemodialysis, improved vision with chips implanted in the brain, or exoskeleton for patients with modular lesions etc., are few examples. In the near future there will be more technologies that will improve certain physical limitations through embedded chips in the body or nanotechnological elements that will be able to circulate through our body reporting the status of certain physiological processes.
However, the challenge is not so much in the “body” realm but in the chemicals that can increase our ability to process information, our memory or diminishing our need to sleep in others. The problem is whether it is ethical or lawful that substances or molecules that can improve a particular neurological disease, can be used in “normal” individuals who wish to improve their cognitive abilities.
All of this poses a dilemma at the level of personal identity. To what extent can physical changes or cognitive “enhancers” alter our personal identity?
We live in a multigenerational society with a high life expectancy
A longer lifespan leads to changes in the way people view their identity as older people, as well as greater diversity in the way identity aspects related to age and cultural expectations. Intergenerational conflicts can erupt if social norms and institutions do not adapt to a generational, culturally and technologically diverse society.
New technologies can accentuate the vulnerability of certain groups: people who are outside identity systems, people who need certain forms of privacy, people unable to handle the growing complexity of identity, people who are victims of identity theft and people with persistently ruined reputations. Developing methods for identity rehabilitation could be important to reduce the risk of vulnerable groups.
By way of conclusion.
Humanity has been evolving for thousands of years, slowly or frantically over the past two centuries. I am convinced that a bright future opens up with new technologies, as long as we are able to face a number of challenges, some of them posed in a shallow way in this article. To do this we need to modernize our governance structures. From local to global and international. We are using governance structures that are rusty, that ignore the complexity of reality and that have enormous difficulties in preparing necessary strategies and actions to ten or twenty years of view . Threats and challenges to our personal identity are not technological problems, they are political problems.
In psychology, personal identity is linked to our experience of being someone (a “central self”) and our sense of being a particular person with a past, future and various attributes (a “narrative self”). Narrative identity is built gradually throughout life and plays an important role both to live a meaningful life and fit into a social context. Both types of self can be affected or modified in different ways: meditation, certain drugs and Cotard’s delirium (1) can change the sense of the central self, while amnesia and false memories can transform the narrative Self. The deliberate modification of the self, using internal and external means is an important part of human life and adapts new technologies quickly (2). In fact, it can often be a driver of new technologies: cosmetics, plastic surgery, social networks, etc.
Psychological identity is complemented by social identity. Social identity involves aspects such as different people (social roles) that people take in different contexts, how people identify with group identities (also sexual, gender and cultural identities) and how they are used in various forms of expression and affiliation.
People maintain a rich structure of social identities, often keeping them separate. Each of these identities has attributes, roles, and norms within their social contexts (3).
BIBLIOGRAPHY AND SOURCES OF INFORMATION
- A rare neuropsychiatric disorder where the affected person believes that he or she is dead or does not exist.
- Robert J. Weber, the Created Self, W.W. Norton & Company, 2001.
- Helen Nissenbaum, Privacy in Context: Technology, Policy, and the Integrity of Social Life. Stanford University Press, 2009, p. 132
- How Does Technology Influence Our Identities? How Does Technology Influence Our Identities?
- The Future of Identity https://www.nickbostrom.com/views/identity.pdf
- How Social Media Shapes Our Identity. The New Yorker https://www.newyorker.com/books/under-review/how-social-media-shapes-our-identity