Sunday, October 24, 2010

It's Not So Simple Any More

Although we can look at a lot of the skills our grandparents and great-grandparents used to survive the Great Depression in order to guide us through the current mess, some things have changed radically. This was brought home to me as I was preparing a set of articles on identity theft for a website on money and credit I am working on.

Back in the 1930's, people generally knew one another, and there was little need for formal identification documents. A person could easily go for weeks or even months without needing to produce one. Most Americans of the time found loathsome the very idea of having to routinely carry documents proving who you were -- it belonged in nasty dictatorships Over There, not the land of the free and the home of the brave.

How things have changed since then. Not only do we have to regularly prove who we are, but our very identity is continually susceptible to being misused to defraud others, leaving us vulnerable to being punished for what someone else did with our name. We have to constantly think about what everything we say and do reveals about our private information, something unthinkable in the 1930's. (If people worried about what they said and did, it was to keep from being accused of sexual immorality or other reputation-damaging activities, not because someone else would take their information and use it to create a paper persona).

Even as late as the 1980's, when I was first beginning to submit stories to publishers, it was considered the normal thing to do to include one's Social Security number on one's manuscript. This enabled the business office to send a check for an accepted story without having to go through the trouble of asking for the SSN so that the 1099 could be filled out for the IRS. But by the mid-90's, I remember being scolded that I was putting myself in danger by doing so, which somewhat bewildered me because other Authoritative Voices were instructing me to put it there.

Although some things do stay the same, there are some things that change, so we need to be aware and avoid getting tripped up by them.

No comments:

Post a Comment