Our Dangerous Obsession with Identity

Over the past 10 years, we’ve developed an obscene obsession with “identity,” and for all the wrong reasons.

Over the past 10 years, we’ve developed an obscene obsession with “identity,” and for all the wrong reasons.

ID CardAt every turn it seems like there are more requirements for “proof of identity,” or requests for ID. Somehow we’ve gotten it into our collective consciousness that being sure of someone’s identity removes all risk of fraud, theft, or crime – but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, stricter requirements for “proof of identity” are, largely, a complete and utter waste of everyone’s time.

Consider this example: the state where I currently live (New Jersey) has an insanely complicated “6 point system” for getting (or even renewing!) a driver’s license. (This is due, at least in part, to the stupid REAL ID Act, which I’ve written about before.) You need “6 points” worth of identification, with different forms of identification being given different point values. For example, a passport is worth 4 points, but a drivers license from any other state is only worth 1 point. And it’s not enough to just get the 6 points you need – you have to have at least one document from each of several categories! And as if that’s not enough, you need another separate document “proving” that you are a resident, which gives you no points, but you need it anyway.

This obsession with “proving identity” seems to stem from the misguided belief that knowing who someone is gives you some insight into what their intentions are. This is obviously a fallacy. So too is the idea that somehow people with sinister intentions would be unable to prove their identity (because all “bad guys” have fake names and use fake IDs, right?). Although a 5th grader would probably understand all of the holes in this logic, somehow this has become our de-facto operating principle at both the large corporation and government level.

Part of this, I think, stems from CYA syndrome, otherwise known as “cover your ass” syndrome.

You see, by forcing everyone to prove who they are, you do establish some sort of paper trail that can be useful after the fact in solving crimes that have already happened. But this is a very small benefit for a hugely cumbersome system of identity verification and re-verification.

It is somewhat of a tangent, but on a personal level I find this constant need to “prove” that I am who I say I am very insulting. This constant doubt of your sincerity and trustworthiness is, frankly, wearisome.

While it’s true that there are some holes in the systems we use for identification, our obsession with identity hasn’t really addressed these concerns in any meaningful way. People continue to get fake IDs, and those who wish to commit crimes (or perpetrate acts of terrorism) will do so, regardless of whether they were able to get a driver’s license or not. So in the end, this obsession with ID is really, truthfully, and honestly a complete waste of time.

You trust me on that, right?

Photo “ID Card” by Gareth Harper, used under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.

New Jersey Slogans

A few tongue-in-cheek slogans to make people appreciate New Jersey a bit more.

The other day I was trying to come up with some slogans for New Jersey, since everyone seems to have a bad opinion of the place.

Though I’m not sure if these slogans will help New Jersey’s reputation very much!

"New Jersey: Come for the shore, stay stuck in traffic for 6 hours." #njslogans
"New Jersey: At least you don't have to pump your own gas!"
"New Jersey: Living in the shadow of New York since 1787"
"New Jersey: It's not THAT bad!"
"New Jersey: It's more than just Newark and the gloomy bits of the Turnpike!"

Great Driving Roads

Recently I’ve found some absolutely wonderful driving roads here in NJ – in Morris and Union Counties, actually.

The first is a series of roads that winds their way through (and around) the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. Unfortunately they are often clogged by cyclists, and of course there’s probably a lot of animals around (turtles, deer, that sort of thing). And the speed limit is rather low, but even still, they are very nice twisty roads – and they just re-paved them the other day, so they are quite smooth & well graded. A really nice drive, whether you go fast or slow.

The second is the roads through and around Watchung Reservation – again, some very fun and curvy roads that are just a blast to… well, blast through. Again, of course, watch out for cyclists, animals, and of course the speed limits. But most fun roads have that speed limit problem… just use your own best judgment when traversing these roads.

That’s all I have for now, but rest assured I will let you know if I find any other great driving roads (and I am always looking). If you know of any great driving roads around here, or around where you are, or even just wherever, feel free to post them in the comments.

Have fun driving!

New Jersey DMV and Online Forms

Why are all state DMV offices so technologically backwards? (Also: why do they all have different names, none of which seem to actually be “DMV?”)

First off, let me clarify. It’s not the DMV – the Department of Motor Vehicles – down here. (In fact, it wasn’t the DMV back in Massachusetts, either – it was the RMV, the Registry of Motor Vehicles.) In New Jersey we have the pretentious name of “Motor Vehicle Commission.” But I’ll still just say DMV.


Obviously, I’ve moved here from out of state, with the Keithmobile-D (my car), and therefore I need to register it here and get New Jersey plates & all that jazz. So, I go to the NJ DMV website to find out what I need to do. They have a very nice section for out-of-state vehicles that explains what forms you need (although the convoluted form names make no sense, at least they are listed). Basically, I need to send a form back to my bank that has the car’s title (I’m still making payments) and get them to send a copy to the NJ DMV, then I just need to fill out a registration form and an “application for titling” – so that my car’s title (i.e. certificate of ownership) is registered here in NJ. Fairly standard DMV stuff, but whatever.

My first indication of trouble was that there were no links on the page that lists what you need to do if you have an out-of-state vehicle for the forms that you need to fill out.

My second indication was that a quick search for forms didn’t turn much up. It was only after some serious googling that I found the DMV’s “forms” page – helpfully located in the “About Us” section. Riiiiiiiight.

However, NONE of the forms I needed to fill out (all 3 of them) were available online. What the hell is the point of having an online forms section if all of the forms aren’t available?? Wouldn’t this be a really good idea? New residents might not know where a DMV office is; it would be very helpful to be able to download the necessary forms and print them out. Especially since these forms often require the VIN number to be entered on them, and if you made them, say, fillable PDF forms, you could type the VIN number in – avoiding delays caused by bad handwriting.

It is absolutely unforgivable in this day and age (2007 for crying out loud!) for a state agency as common as the DMV not to have all of its forms available on their website. It just doesn’t make any sense.

I’m sure they have some sort of crazy justification that they’ve told themselves over and over again until they believed it as to why someone would have to come into one of their offices to pick up a form, rather than download it off the Internet. Maybe I have to show ID to get it? I wouldn’t be surprised. (Don’t even get me started on what you have to do to get a license here nowadays. Can you say “papers, please?”)

Note to the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission: PUT ALL OF YOUR FORMS ONLINE AS PDFs. Make them fillable while you’re at it. Your people will have an easier time reading submitted forms, and people will enjoy the convenience. Everyone wins.

New Jersey Wildlife

I swear, I’ve seen more wildlife since coming to NJ than I ever saw back in MA.

I swear, I’ve seen more wildlife since coming to NJ than I ever saw back in MA. I’ve seen deer, giant praying mantises, and some crazy birds that I can’t identify.

Who’dve thunk it?