Friday, December 02, 2005

Tags of Identity

It seems there is something going on about Blogging Against Racism. Spanglemonkey's and elswhere's posts on the subject have inspired me.

Before the advent of political correctness, there used to be clearly defined categories of identity and you could even ask people to put them on a job application: date of birth, sex, race, religion, nationality, address, education level, profession. You couldn't ask about income, but that was an unstated attribute of identity too, except for Uncle Sam's income tax forms.

The world has changed. People have changed too, at least in superficial ways. And language changes. For example, "Intermarriage" used to mean people of different races or religions got married. It may still mean this, but the phenomenon is so common that the term is losing its value. People of same sexes never married or had children. Now they do. "May-September" romances used to be between a young woman and a much older man, sometimes resulting in marriage. Now it happens the other way as well. Some people had professions, but only a dilettant(e) had more than one in a lifetime. Today the "mid-life crisis" is so common that it's almost an obligatory rite of passage. People may have lived into their 80's or even 90's, but rarely stayed active in matters outside of family after 75. I have reasons to hope that this is no longer the case (!)

Now, for an amazing variety of reasons historical, technological, political, and maybe even biological, identity is becoming more individualized than ever. Categories are handy hooks, but sometimes we get impaled on these very hooks. 21st century technology enables us to trade in our categories for an infinity of tags, and I say "Hurrah!" At the same time, the old categories sometimes serve as an anchor when the plethora of options becomes overwhelming, and this explains fundamentalism. In extreme cases, the reaction to the prospect of infinite diversity results in violence. If the old categories of identity are destroyed, taboos may also be destroyed. Are there no limits? Scary.

I remember from my experience in information modeling I used to draw diagrams for categorizing data, and arrows to show relationships and dependencies. These diagrams got translated into databases, using what may now be considered primitive tools. Search engines have supplemented and in some cases even eliminated physical databases now, and again I say "Hurrah!" The increasing use of tags (labels) in consumer software (like g-mail and flickr) are subtle indicators that the old hierarchical methods of categorizing anything were too limiting to human progress. Hierarchies are the opiates of the masses! Onward and upward with networks! (Not for nothing has the Internet been compared to the Talmud.)

Here are some of my tags, in no particular order: musician, mathematician, computer programmer, systems analyst, tech writer, teacher, usability consultant, mother, grandmother, divorcee, aunt, sister-in-law, mother-in-law, cousin, sexagenerian, heterosexual, American, Jew, Israeli, French-speaker, English-speaker, Hebrew-speaker (hah!), artist, designer, knitter, needlepointer, walker, dancer, reader, baker, cook, opera-lover, choral singer, credit-card shopper, Internet user, blogger. And that's just off the top of my head.

Is it a worthwhile exercise to give yourself and others tags? I guess it depends how you use them. I am a great fan of heterogeneity in my life, so one of my favorite games is to see how many tags I have in common with another person, and how many tags we don't have in common. And then to explore how that person looks at life differently or similarly to me. It's endlessly entertaining, although not always relaxing. (I haven't met a terrorist or a Nazi, but I'm thinking about The Silence of the Lambs, and Truman Capote's In Cold Blood)

I don't want no stinkin' data base! I am not a pigeon, and you can keep your pigeon-holes. (Spammers, beware! I do have limits!)


TLP said...

Mmmm....I'm a woman, mother, grandmother, wife, senior citizen, aunt, sister-in-law, mother-in-law, cousin, reader, walker, craftperson, blogger, volunteer, Unitarian, sister, American, liberal, and many other things...

elswhere said...

But I didn't blog about racism! I blogged about sexism!

SavtaDotty said...

Oooops! (Now I see why it's a problem a.k.a. challenge having me for a mother.) I've still got more questions than answers about sexism, but I'll give it a try and post something.

Fred said...

In the 50s and 60s, applications would routinely ask someone how much they drank, whether they planned on getting pregnant, and how many times they were married. Imagine that!

trelif said...

Hi Savtadotty! I guess this is the week to make new acquaintances. : )

I'm a: woman, girlfriend, sister, daughter, niece, grandaughter, friend, research assistant, blogger, knitter, sewer, jewelry designer, public-transportation-taker, traveler, reader, cook, animal-lover, environmentalist, vegan, racial/ethnic mix, liberal, lapsed catholic, default atheist, music-lover, science-lover, complainer, social critic, bird-watcher, people-watcher, fashionista wannabe, walker, jogger, premature grey-hair, seeker of things.

SavtaDotty said...

TLP - grandmother is the most fun, doncha think?

Fred - At IBM in the early 50s, I'm told female employees who were to be seen by clients had to wear girdles(!) But that's OK, 'cause the men had to wear hats.

henri-V - we overlap on almost everything, except bird-watching. Oh, and the religion, ethnic, and jogging stuff.

that girl - prego! (Did I just sing an aria?)

Liza said...

Here in Israel, I was still being asked on job interviews in the '90s if I was planning to get pregnant. Of course, it was already illegal to ask, but they would preface it with an uncomfortable laugh and say something like, "I don't feel comfortable asking this, but are you planning to get pregnant?" I'd always respond with "well, I'm not planning to." Luckily, people have gotten wiser since those days, and I haven't been asked that question during an interview in about 10 years.

Don Radlauer said...

I'm not going to list all my "tags", as it would take forever to come up with a full list and some of them - like "sniper" - might not be all that pretty! But we have at least one in common - "choral singer"!

I'm actually in the middle of trying to create a new madrigal group (SSATTB, at least for a start) - and we're desparately short of S's and A's. Might you be interested?

SavtaDotty said...

She - And what would they do if you said you were not planning to get pregnant, they hired you, and then, surprise! You got pregnant? What then?

That Girl - Thank you! On the strength of your applause, I think I'll join Don's madrigal group (see next).

Don - Yes, yes, yes! I think I can sing A, although I sang T for so many years that I'll have to re-train my eyes to read a line above, and my voice to do more with its upper register. I have some nice music to contribute from my previous choral days.

Don Radlauer said...

Yofi! Contact me offline (you do have my email, right?) and we'll talk further about this.