Confusion, control and comfort: premediating identity management in film and television

06 Feb 2014

At the heart of this project is the fact that a number of national and international agencies have pointed to identity management as one of the main private and public challenges of the future; the issue is subject to intense public controversy and contestation, especially with respect to access to, usage and ownership of personal data.

Most work about identity management tends to assume users to be rational actors making instrumental choices on the basis of perceived usefulness and efficiency; cultural narratives hardly ever come up in current research about acceptance of new identity management technologies (IMTs). This is something that we have sought to address, and it is something that seems especially important when you consider that our survey findings suggest that most people have experience of only standard token- and memory-based IMTs, and therefore cannot rely on experience when it comes to thinking about more advanced (and particularly biometric) technologies. Film and television representations do not prescribe certain meanings around IM, but they do create and delineate horizons of imagination; repositories of meanings from which people can draw to make sense of innovations and their consequences.

Our paper, examining how IMTs are premediated in a sample of film, television and web series, has recently been published in Information, Communication and Society. Our analysis suggests that a whole range of future IM (knowledge- and token-based, as well as biometric/implant) technologies is imagined here, with biometric and implant technologies most likely to be taken to (dystopian) extremes. Stories of identity theft and confusion, surveillance and control, comfort and corruption construct them as potentially problematic and always under threat, as well as calling up existential concerns about what it means to be human. We conclude that these dark horizons are anchored in myth and persistent fears about who we are, and thus that new means of identity management face a difficult task in gaining users' trust.