Philip makes this point in his latest post. And on twitter asserts that I have narrow limited expertise in our twitter thread about it today. Below the quote from his piece is my response.
I know from experience that this isn’t an easy subject to talk about — ‘digital identity’ is such a broad, deep and multi-faceted field. If you are an expert in sociology or philosophy, psychology or cultural studies, complexity, history, economics or law or some other relevant discipline other than information technology, I urge you to expand on this analysis to help throw more light on the matter.– The Dystopia of Self-Sovereign Identity
You make this assertion as if people in the community don’t have backgrounds in these areas. As if everyone amongst the 1000’s working on the tech is “only” a computer science major. This couldn’t be farther from the truth and I encourage the community reading this to come forward with their own stories and background and expertise in fields beyond “information technology”
As you will see I am an obsessive interdisiplinarian.
My degree from UC Berkeley was in Interdisciplinary Field Studies and the major I created for myself was Political Economy and Human Rights – turns out comes in really handy now that we are talking about rights and technology and economics in the digital realm.
I have a minor in Demography – the study of populations in aggregate. I’m good friends with the professor who wrote How Many People can the Earth Support who I met after he lectured at UCB.
I have a minor in Conservation Resource Studies – every class I took for that was Environmental Science Policy Management – my two favorite classes in that cluster were Ecosystemology taught by Arnold Shultz and International Rural Development Policy taught by Claudia Carr – it was amazing her explanation of contemporary neoliberal globalization policies in the developing world. I also took away from this experience to make the world better I should stick to addressing the real issues that we on this continent were causing not “go to the developing world” to help them solve problems we basically caused.
I wrote my undergraduate thesis on The Lost Opportunity for Sustainable Development in Palestine. Inspired by my trip to Israel/Palestine in the summer of 2000 where I worked at Btselem the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories and also at the Public Committee Against Torture Israel. I also got the opportunity while there to do NGO tourism – going places normal tourists couldn’t go including to Refugee Camps in Gaza (we did an over night trip there) and spent 3 days in Hebron including one over night trip with a man who had peace library. I also got to meet and walk around with the Christian Peace Maker team that lived in the city.
Another set of classes was very influential. I took two classes on Gandhian Nonviolence taught by Michael Nagler. So much so that I ended up working with them right after college with the Metta Center for Nonviolence Education. My 2nd day of that first job was …. 9/11.
Oh right and that summer before 9/11 I took the 9 unit intensive summer offering at the business school – Business for Art Science and Engineering Majors.
If you had told me then that I would be working in the technology Industry…well that just wasn’t really what I saw in front of me.
For the first years out of college I found myself mapping and networking amongst the leaders doing spiritual activism work (taking spiritual practices and principles to social change movements and organizations at the inner personal, interpersonal, group and movement level). They saw me as enough of a leader to invite me to their retreats where they were talking about their work/practices and exploring larger scale collaborations/synergies. I have some amazing maps drawn at this time.
When I did encounter technology around this time via Planetwork. I envisioned building this specific network of leaders a distributed social network to link/weave their followers, students, readers, fans together. Where the people each had their own digital identity to interact with in this network. Turns out the tech the guys were talking about wasnt ready and didn’t do what it needed too…so you know what I did… I jumped in and worked WITH them to help build what we need to empower people with their personal data and have power over the digital representation of themselves.
I still aspire to make the vision I articulated to network leaders and movements together sans facebooks. I believe we can do it now with building blocks we have with SSI we can do it now.
Oh and just as an aside…I also had another whole “major” in college. I was on the Varsity water polo team and during my college years. We came in 2nd in the country three years in a row. I also played for the Canadian National Team and with them won a gold medal at the 1999 Pan-American Games. (where we beat the American team – against my own coach at Cal playing who played for them). I was the leading scorer my freshman year and still 20 years later hold that record. I was a 4 time All American. I have a real “body intelligence” that informs all I do.
Water polo literally gave me skills to see systems flows and plays. I grew up playing mixed water polo with the summer swim team. I started when I was 10 years old and played in the fall league (that was mixed 2 girls had to be in the water at all times) until the last year of high shool 17 years old – so I’ve been literally playing with the guys since then. I currently (well at least until COVID happened) played water polo twice a week for an hour and a half with the local “mixed” masters program. I’m basically the only woman in the pool at every practice.
So I’m used to playing with the guys – literally. It is one of the reasons being the only woman in the room isn’t a problem – as I find myself so often in technology spaces. I’m used to it. I don’t like it but it isn’t so uncomfortable I leave.
I know how to play as a team. To see the play to pass the ball and move with others to accomplish a goal. I’ve thought a lot about my strengths and gifts that I bring from one part of my life to my work in digital identity now. Form water polo I bring being able to see the plays, feel the game and to read the room.
I went and got a Masters Degere in Identity Management and Security from UT Austin’s Information School ranked amongst the top 10. Every class we took was about Identity and “something else”.
Introduction to Identity Management, Security, and Privacy
Identity in Society and Community
Identity Risk and Benefit Analysis
Business Practices and Governance
The Policy of Identity
Identity and Law
Identity Information Management and Repositories
I read a whole file box of papers for the classes that led to the degree. About all of these “identity and something else” including sociology, psychology, law, geography, business.
I was bored in class often and I decided to use the time to take advantage of having access to a T1 library and scoured it for all the articles books and thesis. I could find there. I have over 900 of them. I went through them to find all the possible articles related to the domains and printed the ones I wanted to read out – filling a another whole file box. I read the all and used them to write my thesis which is now a published book.
I have an amazing book library that has nothing to do with “digital identity” but everything to do with all sorts of other topics many of which tie back to identity. (BTW my dram goal is to have enough $ to rent an office or to get a bigger place so all the books can come out of storage) The books cover range of fields including sections on urban planning, environmental systems, ecological economics, ecology and ecosystems, patterns in nature, feminism, systems theory, geography, maps, facilitation, visualization and drawing, organizational development, social change, psychology, personal growth, history particularly of the practices of the US surveillance state over seas, racism (both from a systems level understanding and a personal behavior point of view), democracy (I’m talking to Tom Atlee about maybe serving on the board of his Co-Intelligence Institute) religion.
In case you are wondering what I did with my time in my 20’s I didn’t drive. I took the bus, BART & CalTrain a lot of places around the Bay and I didn’t commute to a “day job” so I had lots of time to read. It’s like reverse Bill Gates. Instead of working on a company and becoming insanely rich and then retiring and reading a lot. I did the reading forgoing earning much beyond the super basics that I need to live. (I am over 40 and have no assets and no retirement) However I am really very well read and have a wide range of knowledge and expertise that I bring to working on digital identity.
I have a spiritual community I have practiced with and joined in worship for over a decade now. A house Gurudwara in San Leandro that holds services every 3rd Sunday. My “adoptive parents” are Sikh. They have taken me in several times since college when I had nowhere else to go. So I have lived in an ashram for several years is my life.I also am Episcopalian and really look up to leaders in my church including Bishop Swing who created the United Religions Initiative and Mathew Fox who founded the University of Creation Spirituality. I went to Religions Raves he hosted each month in Oakland in the 2000’s. I had a Muslim roommate in college when I lived at International House and one of my best friends is a practicing muslim who wears a head covering. I have lots of Jewish friends and really dig passover. I’m Looking forward to helping Phil Wolf with the Data Sader this year – “let my data go”.
I would love to do a series of books with religious leaders looking at topics related to digital identity and personal data based on their perspectives similar to what Mary Evelyn Tucker did with the Environment.
Oh yeah and I almost forgot. I’m a Young Global Leader selected by the World Economic Forum in 2012 with only 200 other people under 40. In 2013 took a two week intensive at the Harvard Kennedy school – Global Leadership and Public Policy in the 21st Century with Young Global.
Well with all this – go ahead and say I’m just a specialist in information technology and have a “poor grasp of identity outside of her narrow domain” with no other expertise to bring to bear to the topic of digital identity.
I invite other leaders in our community to share the depths of their expertise beyond the field of “information technology” and I will link them here. I think it is important we start to share our stories and why you worked in generative collaboration creating this technology for so long together.