The Merging of Our Physical and Digital Identities


September 20, 2017

The Merging of Our Physical and Digital Identities

The September Blog Series | All About Identity

Issue 10: The Merging of Our Physical and Digital Identities

Virtual reality is becoming increasingly popular, but it's actually a different type of reality -- augmented reality -- that may soon be altering the way we separate digital and physical worlds. While virtual reality occurs entirely in the realm of the unreal, augmented reality simply adds on to the world that we experience. Google Glass and Microsoft HoloLens are both examples of augmented reality technology, but smartphones have been paving the way for everyday augmented reality use. As the digital world begins to "intrude" upon the physical world, it also has an impact on the way that we manage our identity and our privacy.

Smart Devices and Augmented Reality Are Creating New Frontiers

Today nearly every appliance comes in a form of "smart" device. Televisions, thermostats, and even refrigerators are now connected to the Internet, reporting information and capturing and analyzing data. This means that our world as a whole is becoming increasingly digital -- and our way of interacting with the world is also becoming blurred between physical and digital reality. In fact, our email addresses may now be used to identify us more often than our actual names or any other identifying features. Our digital identity is, essentially, becoming our physical identity.

As security becomes more important, many of these devices are also using physical aspects of ourselves to secure digital data. Biometric scanning -- most commonly ocular scans and fingerprint scans, in addition to facial recognition -- can be used to identify us and connect us to our digital accounts. In this way, our digital and physical selves are becoming completely melded. This can carry with it numerous conveniences across both business and personal live, but there are also some challenges that we must face.

The Consequences of Merging Our Physical and Digital Identity

It has become inevitable that digital identities and physical identities will now become unified. In the past, it was always advised that we keep our digital information separated from our real lives. And that has often led to people sharing more in a digital environment than they might in the physical world. Individuals may hold different opinions on the Internet than they do in real life and they may more readily share information about their day with strangers than with friends and family. But this information is going to become more accessible to those that they interact with on a daily basis; privacy is going to become a paramount concern.

Social media is already beginning to address this, by making it easier to set permissions and to control exactly who can see what information. This type of identity control and scope control is going to become even more important moving forward, as a generation is raised that has lived their entire childhoods online. At the same time, this is also going to become something that is normalized: people will begin to understand that there is more information available about people out there than ever before, and all of this will lead to a shift in social understanding.

When it comes to commonplace activities such as logging into a system or paying for a product, it's likely that all accounts will eventually be tied to physical aspects of a person -- whether it's a card that they keep on them or a biometric signal. Because digital identities are going to eventually become a part of our physical identity, we will also begin to do more things with our smart devices (such as our smartphones) and there will be additional standardization regarding identity and authentication services.

Physical and digital identities are no longer completely separate concepts and over time they are likely to eventually merge. That means that individuals will need to be more concerned about what they place in the digital realm... but it also means that the world overall will become a more convenient place.