December 09, 2003

Persistent v. Transitory Internet Identity

David Brooks in today's New York Times has stirred up something of a tempest over his characterization of the Internet as the home of transitory pseudonymity.

Everybody talks about how the Internet has been key to his fund-raising and organization. Nobody talks about how it has shaped his persona. On the Internet, the long term doesn't matter, as long as you are blunt and forceful at that moment. On the Internet, a new persona is just a click away. On the Internet, everyone is loosely tethered, careless and free. Dean is the Internet man, a string of exhilarating moments and daring accusations.

Andrew Sullivan and Jeff Jarvis fire back that long term persistence is what counts. In truth both sides have a point.

It is trivially easy to create a pseudonymous identity. True anonymity is almost as easy if you know what you are doing. Such net identities are put on and thrown off by some multiple times a day as a matter of convenience. Thus David Brooks is right.

However, creating a sense of credibility, of authority, of being taken on faith as someone of good will, that requires a persistent identity. With the net being a fairly persistent forum and highly searchable, being all over the map will cost you. Thus Jeff Jarvis and Andrew Sullivan are also right.

So what is Dean trying to pull here? I believe that he is counting on his transitions from left wing liberal in the primary to general election centrist will be handled as 'just normal politics' and that the mainstream liberal media will cover for him as they did for most nominees for whom 90%+ of the press corps is going to vote for.

This is very much an open question to my mind. I don't think that anybody really knows whether the Donald Luskin like truth squad brigade will be loud enough to matter. Where are americans going to get their impressions of Dean when they start paying attention around Labor Day 2004? It'll be a wild ride, that's my only prediction.

Posted by TMLutas at December 9, 2003 01:17 PM