Reputation = (Identity + Observer) x Time
As we move through the stages of human life, we build and rebuild our internal identities many times. New hobbies, beliefs, life pivots, and family roles can change us completely. While each one of these personas seems separate to us at the time, they appear interconnected to any single observer, as that observer enters and exits your life. Their perception of your identity over time forms a catalog of information about who you are, and this information can spread across a population in a whole slew of ways. The information and its transmission come together to create your reputation. It’s not how you see yourself, or how you want to be seen– rather how others see you through their own experience.
Lots of factors can impact how we’re viewed, and at the top of this list is our own actions. We control the moves we make, paths we choose, and responses we have to outside stimuli. I mean, mostly. From there, it’s up to any observer, group, or software to filter what they know of our actions through the criteria they have. Our friends and coworkers might see us through a trust & social capital lens, while a bank looks primarily at earning power and financial prudence. Our friends might think we’re a hoot, the bank might think we’re a primate, and while they both might be correct, we’re still the same old us. Doing what we do.
If I go to the same restaurant every week for a year, the staff might get to know and even like me over the course of that time. If I forget my wallet one day maybe the staff will comp my meal because I’ve been such a loyal guest of the restaurant, or maybe they’ll just let me come back and pay next time. Both require a trust that I’ve built up with that particular restaurant. However, in an unfortunate turn of events, if that restaurant burns to the ground and the staff move on to work as insurance and real-estate agents, I go to the restaurant next door and start over again.
After racking up credit card bills going to this now burnt-down restaurant for years, I may have missed a few payments. A couple good dates had me spending higher than I ought, and a few good hangovers pushed me to lose track of due dates. I’m in debt, and my credit score is dwindling. As many of us know, it takes much longer to get out of trouble than to get into it. I’ve worked for years to keep a clean record, and now it’s sullied for the next five or seven years or however long details take to fall off of a credit report.
Either way you look at this, it’s much easier to knock the building down than it is to build it. In both cases, something that had been built over time was swiftly removed, but for two very different reasons. In the former, our hero is bothered that he can’t bring his reputation with him, but in the latter, that he can’t shed it. So what gives? Is a reputation either permanent or impermanent solely when it’s inconvenient for me? Maybe.
Getting to know and gaining the favor of a small, changing group such as a restaurant staff provided not just the task of getting to know a new bunch of people, but also the freedom to shed your previous restaurant identity. If you’d regularly behaved like a savage at the joint you’d been frequenting prior in the above example, you now have the opportunity to redefine yourself. This analogy has myriad implications for the digital realm we’re exploring with regards to the many identities we have or will have during our lives, and the scene for this is just beginning to be set.
In the real world, we can pretend to be whomever we want with whatever groups we choose, but as the speed of information increases, it becomes more and more difficult to start fresh, as we all have only one official government identity. But don’t people change? Don’t we learn and grow and doesn’t that warrant new opportunities? I was fired from a grocery store for stealing hair dye and chewing gum in the year 2000, and the store manager made a judgment call not to press charges or put it on my permanent record. I haven’t stolen a penny from anyone or anywhere since, and I still think about contacting him to say thanks.
You go to prison, and you come out with a permanent scar on your record. You do the time, pay your dues and potentially come out different, and for that you deserve a new set of chances. As we enter the realm of digital identity, we may be given more and more opportunities to hit the reset button and start the game over, being given the option of either our previous record or no record at all– maybe even many personas we use in different scenarios for different reasons. I have a totally different reputation and identity in the bar & restaurant world than I do in the digital assets space, and my ability to separate these two things isn’t something I use exploitatively. In fact, I’d argue that we’re all pretty good at sniffing out when an actor has malicious intent, and as the speed of information quickens daily, we’ll keep getting better at this.
I’m excited to see what new opportunities this provides, and who else we become. See you in the future.
Thanks to Bankless DAO for the ongoing support.