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    What is it like to be a ‘Nym’ - A Polytopian Stance
    Project: Polytopia
    Exploring the concept of cyber-identities, their application, evolution and necessary reformulation

    "Perhaps it's impossible to wear an identity without becoming what you pretend to be."

    Orson Scott Card (Ender's Game)

    There are many reasons for this essay but the main one is to emphasize why we desire, all of us humans that is, or so I wish to believe, a kinder civilization. A kinder civilization takes into account that an intelligent hyperconnected individual is a nexus of fluid transactions; both internal and external, such an individual is the basis for the cultural, social and aesthetic necessity of having a civilization in the first place. Each and every one of us contains an indefinite amount of possibilities, each of such able potentially to develop an ‘I’ that is consistent coherent and interesting.
    Each of which has or may have a name or a ‘Nym’, as the case may be.

    The infoverse we have created is the place where such development occurs and will continue to evolve, for this, cyberspace need remain wide open and fundamentally unfastened, a habitat for our minds to explore and elaborate all and everything.
    The main issue at play is that our cyber-identities are fundamentally fluid, open and deny nucleic identification , a fact, which by definition provides the framework and horizon from which to exercise our critical thought and in which we oppose or take a stand.
    Cyberspace is not only the new Agora; Cyberspace is the de-facto circumstances of our next step of evolution, as a culture, as a civilization and as individuals.
    Therefore safeguarding the very essence of the infoverse is vital and allowing it the critical dimension of pseudonymous activity is essential for said kinder cyber-civilization to arise.


    It has been a while now that the concept of identity in the cyber environment we exist in has been bundled, unbundled and re-bundled. It will not be untrue to state that very little examination of the very concept of cyber identity has been performed, in depth that is. The search for solutions, the seeking of codes, to answer the needs of corporations and governments has left very little room for the individual hyperconnected mind to find a fully coherent and reasonable approach to the problem of cyber-identity. The immense amount of problems to be worked out has created a situation in which the easiest and most ad-hoc solutions are taken on face value and are not as a rule taken to the deconstruction process necessitated by this new cyber-civilization co-extending our lives into new domains of existence.
    These domains, or infocologies, are new to our minds, fresh to our system of thought and paradigmatically different than everything we knew before hand.
    That is why a deconstruction is necessary so we can build our cyber identities from scratch; reconstructing ourselves into and as the cyber extended minds we have become and are continuously evolving into.
    Identity in the cyber world offers an unprecedented ground of engagement for the renewal and rejuvenation of the concept of the individual. To my mind this particular point is of critical importance if we are to leave the habits of old linear thinking and bootstrap ourselves into a new kind (and kinder) of civilization, a truly enlightened cyber civilization.

    "Sadly, at a time when so much sophisticated cultural criticism by hip intellectuals from diverse locations extols a vision of cultural hybridity, border crossing, subjectivity constructed out of plurality, the vast majority of folks in this society still believe in a notion of identity that is rooted in a sense of essential traits and characteristics that are fixed and static."

    Bell Hooks (Art on My Mind: Visual Politics)

    What is Identity?

    As always it is good to know what one talks or writes about at least in as much as language provides us with a tool that can to a certain extent be validated and accepted across a wide enough range so as to be domain universal.
    Identity if so, comes from Latin, from the term Identitas (Idem) that basically means: being the same, sameness, repeated, identical to itself and so on. (For an extended list of definitions see here).
    However if there is one issue about which our modern lexical vocabulary is quite certain it is that identities are anything but identical to themselves across time.

    “Heraclitus argued that one could not bathe in the same river twice because new waters were ever flowing in. Hume argued that identity over time was a fiction we substitute for a collection of related objects” (Identity over time- Stanford Encyclopedia of philosophy )

    As a first approximation let us posit that the correlation of an identity to a particular person-body is a feature of the material world, based on the infrastructure of the world and the way things operate in what is commonly accepted under the (erroneous) term:"the real world", as it is now.
    However, cyberspace, the infoverse and all correlated terminologies that have at base the concept of information (and subsequently the virtual) do not lend themselves to this closely coupled relationship. Information is fundamentally disembodied even if at base apparently substrate dependent, or as the case may be supervenient.

    As a second approximation let us posit that an identity is a social artifact construct, a bundle of traits and characteristics that may or may not be relevant with respect to a particular situation we find ourselves in. moreover if we accept that identity is a set of perceived characteristics (and perception here is a critical aspect of the definition) we must also accept that first person subjective experience does not pertain to this set if only for the simple reason that at present our thoughts and dreams, inner vision and so on is only accessible to our sense thought. We thus come to the point that is generally accepted as identity, a third person so called ‘objective’ representation of that same set of characteristics and traits that are recognizable and re-traceable (to the originator or bearer).

    Fundamentally the persona is nothing real: it is a compromise between individual and society as to what a man should appear to be. He takes a name, earns a title, exercises a function... In a certain sense all this is real, yet in relation to the essential individuality of the person concerned it is only a secondary reality, a compromise formation, in making which others often have a greater share than he. (Jung, 1935, p. 158)

    As a third approximation let us posit that an identity is a multiplicity of differences, different traits and characteristics, that do not necessarily attach themselves to the originator person and-or are not desired to be associated with other identifying characteristics and traits of that same person by that same person (irrespective to what others in her social circles may desire). Additionally it is a fact that different kinds of identities (such as political identity, national identity, sexual identity, ethnic identity and the like) are not and should not by default and necessity be compacted into a ‘one size fits all’ system of recognition. (Further down I shall argue that bundling these identities under one canopy namely ‘the real name’ of the person involved is tantamount to the arrest of the social development of our cyber civilization).

    Finally identity as it is used presently in cyberspace is far removed from the manner by which it is defined in dictionaries and commonly used in ‘normal’ speech. In fact the manner hyperconnected power users of the cyber civilization are using the concept of identity is much closer to the philosophical than to the social; it is therefore detrimental to our evolution to extend linear configurations belonging to the ‘real world’ into cyber space. Furthermore, as the hyperconnected infoverse increases in size and complexity, linkages and devices that are 24-7 online and thus reporting ‘back’ to some unknown central node, our cyber identities become more and more crucial, to our self descriptions and by extension to our self determination.

    Therefore a new definition of cyber identity is necessary, a definition that will permit a fluid, developing and emerging, de - centralized, manifold variable, ever iterating, descriptive and context sensitive.


    In cyberspace identity plays a role that is of a different nature then what we are used to in physical space. In a very simple manner of presentation I would say that a cyber-identity not only doesn’t push us away from the ‘real’ our cyber-identities are the means and tools for extending our semantic multiplicities, our multiple personas, meaningful personas, into the electronic light. In other words cyber identity is a process of opening up, of liberating a set of traits and characteristics that is already there or is in the process of developing that has or had no other means of exposing itself to critical thought or reflection.

    Herein lie a great misunderstanding; the point is that extending our minds into personae-s in cyberspace, is not a linear process and therefore, linearly extending that which comes from physicality into cyberspace (namely using all the basic traits and characteristics associated with the particular person, such as ‘real name’ and the like) is actually not a sign of integration but discontinuity. As I see it an integrated person is able to maintain a wide variety of interests and thoughts which are not necessarily coherent and or cohesive in the common manner of understanding, these may be ambiguous or outright contradictory and yet be given their proper due in her mind.
    A multiplicity of interests is a fundamental of an intelligently active mind, smartly exploring whatsoever that mind finds exciting at the time of exploration. Tracing back that particular interest to a particular embodiment in a vain attempt to narrate a whole that is fixedly contoured is not only erroneous in the sense that it violates the principle of multiplicity but is also unnatural in that the mind in question in its process of self-description requires space that are fundamentally disassociated from said embodiment.

    In fact to my eyes the falsity of so called integration between the physical world and cyberspace is exactly that which implies sameness (identity) in a dimension that is utterly non-identical to the point of origination. Cyberspace is NOT identical to the physical world and therefore should not be subjected to the same norms of identity recognition we commonly superficially apply in every day material interactions. It should be clear by now that my argument for the usage of Nyms (as pseudonyms are currently called) is not based on a need for privacy and any other consideration that is relevant (though these are highly important and necessary) but is about the future of the individual and the potential to re-invent ourselves as the infovores that we are.

    My sympathetic consideration of and for a pseudonym is as an expression that allows for a fluid reality in which you don’t have to present a fixed identity statement before entering a social interaction. Not only do I advocate the ‘privilege’ of pseudonymous activity and social interactions, it is my view that pseudonyms should be encouraged to all spheres of the infoverse, cyber-life and related infocologies.
    The pseudonymous argument is an argument against identity specificity: it fundamentally claims that I am a person with multiple identities and have desires of self-description that inherently carry a variety of ways of manifestations. A pseudonym is an argument against a basic foundational normalization, meant to extol the virtues of the multiple, the fluid, the emergent, the creative, the unknown and the serendipitous.

    A Nym is not a hiding place, it is not a secret, it is a representational image reflecting a particular form of interest exploration, an emotional transport system that carries ideas and reasons that are of critical importance to the originator. That this originator is a bundle of sense thoughts, a particular set of traits and characteristics that can (presently) be traced to a particular embodiment in the material world is insignificant in relation to the manner this individual desires to self explore in cyber space.

    Most forms of identification contain more information than is needed for any transaction. The unbundling that is possible in cyberspace allows portions of identity to be disassociated and verified by a third party. This not only creates the ability to verify via the least revealing means, but it also creates the framework for anonymous transactions - it is possible to merely verify the proper information without ever distributing the name characteristic. Further, cyberspace users have control over the strength of the link between their real world and cyber-identities.

    #3 (Professors Hal Abelson and Lawrence Lessig-10 December 1998)

    Self as practice- Nyms as performance

    Cyberspace and its technologically mediated environments gave birth to new paradigms of subjectivity and identity (Mansfield 2005). Cyberspace takes the fluidity of identity that is called for in everyday life even without computer networks , concretizes it, and challenges us to revisit the question of what we mean by identity and to think about identities in terms of multiplicity, as boundaries between the unitary and the multiple self are eroding ((Turkle 1996a; Turkle 1995, 9). As we shift, in cyberspace, through series of virtual personae, a fundamental shift happens in the way we create and experience human identity. We assume personae of our own creation, inventing ourselves as we go along, becoming authors of ourselves. We build a self by cycling through many selves (Turkle 1995, 178); thus, in this game the self is constructed and the rules of social interaction are built, not received.

    The factuality of shifting between personas, images, avatars and indeed Nyms, can be said to be the next step in the evolution of our self representation, self description and self determination, in fact it is the manner by which our minds re-organize the ‘real world’ of our inner workings, using the hyperconnected infoverse as the main tool through which we come into being, indeed through which we become ‘real’.

    The shift to multiple online personas is a cultural shift, in its infancy at present yet ordaining a new fashion of becoming. No longer are we to accept the closely coupled, body to identity attachment, for the self and by consequence identity is neither substance or being as such but a performance, a practice, a mind in action in its never-ending process of self-description. It is precisely because we have the privilege of using multiple personas in the hyperconnected infoverse that we can finally unbundle some of our traits and either eliminate these from view (and eventually at all) or insert other in their stead.

    Cyber identities are therefore a modern manner of intra-weaving a multiplicity of sense thoughts, involving an indefinite amount of impressions and de-centralization, implying a new manner to practice the self as a work of art (following Foucault).
    Moreover as the hyperconnected minds increase in connectivity the newly minted Nyms may take a life of their own and increasingly will come to provide fresh venues in which and by which we will extend ourselves as aesthetic works of art. In that Nyms are only the tip of the iceberg of the future of individuation.

    What is it like to be a Nym ?

    To be a Nym is to subjectively self describe in a virtualized environment based on hyperconnectivity. To be a Nym is to practice an aesthetic art of becoming through multiplying images of self-description that have at core a fluid and highly de-centralized economy of interests.
    Cyberspace is the fluctuating environment for the free flowing economy of interests, in that the hyperconnected infoverse allows the emergence of co-extensive infocologies in which and by which we trade in interests, ideas and sense thoughts, for the benefit of all. For this Nyms are an increasingly interesting practice allowing interactions and intersubjective co-creations in manners not previously possible.

    In a previous essay concerning the relationship avatar originator I have written:

    ..The hyperconnected virtually enmeshed infocologies, upon which we are projecting our newly minted avatars, are oscillating representations that slowly but surely are disengaging from their points of origination.
    This disengagement process, itself part of our cyborgization becoming, opens new options, fresh possibilities and a wide array of potentials for the evolution of our self-descriptions into new horizons of freedom.

    (Read: the Luxurious ambiguity of intelligence in hyperconnectivity)

    But beyond freedom and the necessary market place of ideas posited originally by Stuart Mill in ‘On Liberty’ and the autonomy argument necessitating anonymity I see the Nyms-Avatars challenge as an aesthetical vehicle for expanding the language of the mind in its social, cultural and indeed performative applications so as to allow a kinder cyber-civilization to rise healthily.

    To be a Nym, can therefore be said to be a statement of realization, an ideation in practice, a method of self-description, a soft designator of a field of interests, a continuity of exploration, a declaration of envisioning and a pointer to an artistic process of becoming real in the virtually enmeshed hyperconnected infoverse.

    A Nym may also be looked at as a self-created niche of activity that may engender the experience of transgressing the boundaries of the old habit of thought in which identity was bound to body-person. It may in fact very well be the case that multiple forms of self-representation in virtuality are the hallmark of the evolution of the mind. Nyms if so may create (and to my mind already are creating) a new ontology, consistent, cohesive and coherent, designating new approaches to the critique of diverse inquiries into the possible.

    Relating to the current conundrum concerning G+ anti-pseudonimity policy

    Most of you are probably already acquainted with the recent debates (see endnotes for an extensive reading list on the subject) concerning Google + anti pseudonimity policy. And yet, notwithstanding some amazing commentaries on the subject I think that a philosophical debate is in order not least of which because though Google is a private company and can in principle do whatsoever it wishes (within the legal limits) its influence on the future of the net, cyberspace and the hyperconnected infoverse at that is as great as they come. Because of its vertical and horizontal all pervasive integration Google has a huge say in the matter, and because many of us are its users, our say and stance matters or indeed should.

    will be continued..

    Endnotes and correlated readings of interest:

    1. The title of this essay is a play on the famous T. Nagel paper (pdf): “what is it like to be a bat?”
    2. This essay was prompted by the latest conundrum of G+ concerning ‘real names’ and ‘pseudonyms’ (a.k.a. ‘Nyms’) for some extensive documentation of what is now termed PlusGate see : “Posts on Google+ Anti-Pseudonymity Policy”. Also Here and here.
    3. The most exhaustive paper on cyber-identities I could find: Digital Identity in Cyberspace(White Paper Submitted for 6.805/Law of Cyberspace: Social Protocols)
    Professors Hal Abelson and Lawrence Lessig-10 December 1998
    4.Preserving the Online Public Sphere and the Ethical Value of Anonymous Speech-By Stephanie Parker-Stanford University, Class of 2011-Ethics in Society (scribd)
    5. Google stumbles over identity - techliberation
    6. Highly recommended Alexis Madrigal - The Atlantic

    The Spartacus Effect:
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    Violet Blue at My name is me
    Kee Hinckley

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    Fast T     Tue, Aug 9, 2011  Permanent link
    The two hubs of interest in this post for me are primarily ‘What is Identity’ and ‘What is real’. I am particularly excited about this post since it floats issues that are long debated, yet brings in a fresh angle, carrying a potential of altering the premises of same debate.
    I would like to focus on the aspect of consistency, and more particularly: consistency of speed, as I see it at the dynamic middle of both the questions above.

    it is therefore detrimental to our evolution to extend linear configurations belonging to the ‘real world’ into cyber space.

    I think the issue underlying the insistence of extending linear configurations thus is the adherence to consistencies of speed which were characterized in tandem with the ‘seen’ layers or aspects of certain realities. In particular, those seen realities that match our biologically induced perceptions. These perceived consistencies have consolidated into anchors to the point of discriminating any and all others when the idea of reality has been formed (and continually iterated). Like the water of the river, which unattended by observation – itself of different speed, are perceived as ‘same’, as Heraclites so aptly pointed out.

    It seems to me that the status afforded to bodily-based identity as The Identity, corresponding to ‘the reality’ is a matter of certain neglect of our immediate perception. Although in the indeed fluid realities performed by our emoting, imagination, thought, passions and so much more, we are well versed in other consistencies of speed. Some much faster and others much slower than the narrow strip we habitually call ‘the reality’.

    Cyberspace for that matter is a play field in which we are unbound from that strip which is optimally synchronized with our bodies, yet alien to much of us. In this sense, cyberspace and the infoverse is truly our home, as I see it. Where we can and indeed are able to real (as a verb) ourselves via a multiplicity of speeds, while in interaction.

    And that last point is so important, since for the first time we are participating in flows of interaction that adhere to more than one tyranny of speed, where we configure time rather than lead by time boundaries adherent to one dimension. In that I see the way out, or away from the conundrum of identity being either or (subjective or objective). And that is what I take to be an opportunity for integration.

    Wildcat     Sat, Aug 13, 2011  Permanent link
    some updates on the on-going G+ debate concerning the usage of Nyms:

    I am Become a Name

    At readwriteweb:
    Google Plus Tells Pseudonym Lovers to Shove It

    and at Gizmondo:
    Google’s Real Names Policy is Evil