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There can be only one

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Earlier this week I had a bizarre notification on Twitter. I was being praised for my role with Samsung Canada and my work with raising awareness of autism. As this wasn’t something I was aware of having done, I guessed it was a different Mark Childs that was being referred to. Sure enough the Chief Marketing Officer of Samsung Canada is called Mark Childs. There are plenty of us. If you Google my name I’m the first page of hits now, but for a long while the top ten were dominated by the uncle and nephew combination of Mark Childses, the (substantially more famous) Cantor and cellist. My mother has their CDs in her collection. I also have this novel on my shelf at home.

Neither of this is particularly unusual. There are plenty of cases of mistaken identity on twitter, often caused by someone less prestigious getting there before the more well-known version. The US teacher John Lewis (“Computer science educator, father of four, social liberal, atheist, and not a retail store”), Ashley “I’m not a freaking cricket match” Kerekes (twitter handle @theashes) or the woman in New York called Elizabeth Line are cases we’ve all heard of. It’s a confusion we’ve come to expect.

This doesn’t really come into a discussion on identity. Identity is a word used in completely different meanings, with very little overlap. Identity in maths is when an equation is true no matter which values are chosen. Identity in the phrase “identity theft” or “identity management” is really just a “construct of credentials” (a great phrase coined by my wife in Peachey and Withnail, 2013) it has little to do with actually what we mean when we talk about identity, which is really the construction of the various ways in which we perceive and define ourselves.

The problem is, how do we create an online presence for ourselves when our names can be blurred across so many different people? On Amazon it can be a problem finding my stuff, because not only is there the novelist called Mark Childs and the guy writing about urban planning called Mark Childs, you’ll also get anything written about children by anyone called Mark appearing above any of us in the returned search. Or in the case of Peachey, A., how do we maintain a single profile if you change your name?

This can be fixed on Amazon by creating an author page. It’s means that everything written by me can be grouped together, with a unique author’s ID (B00DHHKCIS – these things never trip off the tongue), so find one and you can find the others.

Writing journal papers is even trickier than books because you need to be traceable through citation indices and there are more people writing them with whom you can get mixed up. It’s why we have unique IDs, though they’re not as unique as they should be, as there’s ResearcherID, Google Scholar ID, OrcidID and Scopus. So not one standard, which is time-consuming, and also prone to complication. Orcid automatically populates its database with publications, but the algorithms are a bit flawed in that it created a hybrid personality composed of me and one other academic. Apparently, it’s far more probable that a professor at MIT might stop publishing about the physics of crystal lattices, drop his middle name and move to Wolverhampton to write about elearning, than that coincidentally one Mark Childs retires as the other’s career starts. Disentangling the two merged beings took a while but we’re know recognised as separate entities by the database.

Although enabling this construct of credentials to be processed unambiguously is not really part of one’s identity, it has led to me making some adaptations to who I am. I don’t actually have a middle name. My brother doesn’t have one, and going up the paternal line to the early 1800s, no-one else has one either. Whereas some families have a traditional name that is used, the Childses traditionally have a blank. That was fine until the need of logins to have a unique usernames. Anyone who’s on TOOC 16 at the moment will see I’m registered as Mark P Childs. As I had already logged in as Mark Childs using my google account, when setting up a Moodle account I needed a way to tell them apart. So the no middle name became a problem. My brother has encountered the same problems with registering email addresses, so is known as Andrew X Childs. If pressed he’ll tell you the X stands for Xavier. So why P? I recently found out that my mother was playing with the idea of calling me Ptolemy. She just liked the name. But changed her mind before registering it. Just as well; it sort of writes a cheque I can’t cash. But if the need to disambiguate my name ever crops up, that’s what goes in there.

I don’t think it changes the way I see myself. Or how others see me. But it’s starting to grow on me.

 

 

Peachey, A. and Withnail, G. (2013) “A Sociocultural Perspective on Negotiating Digital Identities in a Community of Learners” in Warburton, S. and Hatzipanagos, S. (Eds) Digital Identity and Social Media USA: IGI Global

 

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