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Monday, July 14, 2003

I Am Not A Number

There's nothing quite like having your car broken into twice in less than two months to make one seriously reconsider one's attachment to personal possessions. Americans in particular tend to regard our automobiles as an extension of our personal property to a degree to which many other cultures simply don't ascribe. For us it's more than just a conveyance, a convenient method for getting from one place to another. If, as they say, "a man's home is his castle", then certainly his automobile is more like a tiny, mobile piece of his personal fiefdom, in much the same way that a foreign embassy is considered a small enclave of native soil in a foreign land. So, when that space is violated, we tend to think of it in much more personal terms than an unwanted and inconvenient violation of property; it's an affront to our personal sovereignty.

This time, however, the theft was doubly troubling to me, first of all because it happened in broad daylight, in the relative security of a grocery store parking lot, but also because this time instead of just swiping a bunch of CD's (which, while certainly no small loss in monetary terms can always be replaced), they also made off with my dayplanner, which among other things contained my PDA (which itself contains records of bank transactions, phone contacts, and other personal information), as well as my Social Security Card, Voter's Registration, a couple of department store charge cards, bank account numbers, checks, health insurance cards, and a lot of other personal information, which could very easily leave me open to Identity Theft.

That's what's more troubling to me than the loss of the physical possessions; the fact that with this information someone with sufficient knowledge and access could literally take over my life. Of course, I've closed the bank accounts, cancelled the charge cards, notified the police, Social Security Admin., Federal Trade Commission, credit agencies, et al, so there is a relatively small likelihood of this actually occuring. But still, it's a little disconcerting to realize that in order to prevent someone else from impersonating you and ruining your financial standing, you basically have to completely delete your own identity and start anew.

Yet, all the while I'm making the phone calls, sending the emails and downloading the appropriate forms, there's a tiny little voice in the back of my head that keeps whispering maybe it wouldn't be such a bad idea to just STAY deleted. After all, they say that every problem is also an opportunity in disguise. What if one just decided to disengage from The Grid completely; no bank accounts, no credit cards, no known address, phone number or place of residence? No way to be tracked through the myriad of intricately connected electronic spiderwebs that in the modern world represent who we are, that define our physical, as well as our financial, national and cultural identities with more exactitude in many ways than our corporeal beings. Is such a thing even possible today? Oh sure, there are probably millions of people in third world countries, say in sub-Saharan Africa, on the Mongolian steppes, or on tiny islands in the South Pacific, who can actually travel the entire arc of their lives from cradle-to-grave without ever once registering so much as a blip in a database or without even so much as a birth certificate to indicate they were ever a living, breathing member of the human species occupying space on planet Earth. But can such a thing be done in a modern technological society without suffering severe negative consequences?

I've known a few people who've actually tried to pull this off, primarily survivalist-fundie types who were convinced the world was just one big conspiracy to enslave them, or who at the very least seemed to be of the opinion that they shouldn't have to actually work in order to live, evidentally derived from some perverted Thoreau-ian sense of individual self-sufficiency. They got by without Social Security numbers, bank accounts, permanent addresses, and most of the other physical manefestations of identity, but it always seemed to me they sacrificed far more than they actually gained in terms of any true sense of "independence". In the modern world it is almost completely impossible for one to provide all the basic necessities of existence through one's own efforts, even at what would be considered the barest subsistence level. We're an interdependent society, we need others to provide those things for us that we cannot provide by ourselves, and they in turn are equally dependent upon us. The idea that one can be completely free and independent of the influence, effort or needs of others is simply a mythology of our forefathers that has no bearing or relevence in today's world. And even, if it could be accomplished with even a modicum of success, it would require such a degree of separation from humanity that few, including those proponents of the concept in principle, would be willing or even able to endure that kind of physical, cultural and emotional isolation. Human beings are at our roots social creatures, and despite the American Mythos of the solitary trapper/explorer/gunslinger/whathaveyou, most of us would crumble in a matter of weeks, if not days if faced with the prospect of having to spend the greater part of our existence separated from the world of our fellow Homo Sapiens. Sure, there are probably a handful of amoral, anti-social, or just plain nutcases for whom such self-imposed exile would probably be mutually beneficial, but such cases would be rare in the extreme.

Still, it's a nice fantasy to play Robinson Crusoe or Natty Bumpo or even Edward Lyle (Gene Hackman's character from "Enemy Of The State"), but that's all it really can be for me -- a fantasy.

Now, I just have to get my bank account reactivated and a new ATM card sent to me. Then I suppose I can start buying CD's again. No doubt the RIAA with take notice and approve of my actions.

Posted byCOMTE on 12:03 PM

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