Last night at 8:15 someone began banging on the front door to my house. My family wasn’t home at the time, but we rent the downstairs, and our tenant was in. David was in his pajamas, however, and decided to ignore the door. The man persisted. Then, after a few minutes, he moved to the side door and began banging away there. Getting no response, he walked around the house, ascended the rear stairs and began banging on the upstairs door. When he once again returned to the downstairs and resumed banging on the front door, David finally got dressed and opened it.

There stood a young man in his 20s who was obviously very excited about something. David asked the man what he wanted. “I am the person you’ve been talking to online,” the young man said. David told him that he was mistaken, that he did not speak with him and that he did not have a computer nor Internet access. The man didn’t believe him at first. “Isn’t this [name of my street address]?”

“Yes it is,” David answered, “but I don’t know you. “

The man finally left, but the whole episode gave David the creeps. Who was this man, what had he been conversing about and what had he expected when he came to the door? We may never know. Both David and I thought of the many Internet sex sting operations that have taken place at a local fast food restaurant less than 300 yards away. Tonight we turned the deadbolts early.
The episode also shows just how weird things can get with identities when the online world and the real world collide.

Here was this man, engaged in a relationship with someone who apparently created an online identity and projected it onto David. So strong was the young man’s belief in this identity that he could not conceed at first that David might not be the person with whom he had been conversing online. Perhaps he was suspicous that David was, in fact, that person but just wouldn’t admit it. He seemed to place more trust in the disembodied identity he thought he knew than he did the man who stood before him. The identity had gained his confidence and trust.

Was the online person the man sought even real? Or just a construct? In Second Life you have people posing as fantasy characters they’d like to be. In chat rooms you have sexual predators pretending to be teenage boys. Identity is used as a tool for manipulation.

In the online world the concept of identity is relative.

My friend, Jon Udell, has frequently blogged about the issue of online identities and how easy it is for someone to hijak someone else’s name and pose as that person when, for example, posting messages online. How do you know the person is who he says he is?

When the Internet intruded on his life in the real world, David could prove who he was. In cyberspace, however, you don’t always really know who you’re talking to.