Identity: The Worst of Both Worlds

I lost my driver's license a few days ago--about two hours before I had to catch a plane and rent a car. Truly an
Rob Hof

I lost my driver's license a few days ago--about two hours before I had to catch a plane and rent a car. Truly an "Oh s---!" moment. In the next hour or two, I got quite an education on the current state of identity, both online and off. It stinks. ...

First, I delayed my flight a couple of hours to give myself time to:

1) Call around to every place I had been for the two-day period to which I narrowed the time I could have lost it. (I figured the only thing that could have happened is that it simply slipped out of the wallet, since everything else was still in it.) Nobody had found it.

2) Try to go to a California Dept. of Motor Vehicles office to replace it. Found the closest one, drove there--and it was closed on that day, a Monday. Thanks, Arnie. And no, you sure can't replace it online or even by phone.

3) Find out if I can rent a car without a license. No. The same rental company I use all the time knows enough about me, including my credit card number, and sends me constant deals by email. But no, it can't use the driver's license information I have given it countless times. Gotta have the plastic.

Fortunately, I had a passport, so I could get on the plane. But I had to end up using a cab at the other end for a 30-mile trip. Good thing there was an ATM across the street from my motel.

The whole experience made me realize that we've got nearly the worst possible situation when it comes to establishing our identities. Online, our privacy and identities are constantly threatened because marketers and thieves can find out so much about us. But there's no well-established place online where we can establish our identities, control access to them, and authenticate them to others' satisfaction as needed. I know many folks are working on what they call Identity 2.0--Sxip's Dick Hardt has a great, funny presentation on what's involved--but it's not here yet.

And I can't even imagine when any online identity will be sufficient to establish who I am in physical-world situations. Lose your card, lose your privileges as a buyer, a traveler, and I'm not sure what else. The idea of national identity cards gives me the willies, though, and you'd have the same problem if you lose it.

Maybe it's just living in Silicon Valley, but it struck me (after my seventh call in vain to a store, hoping someone had found my license) that in such a computerized, online, always-on world, it's kind of crazy that we still need to carry around a physical object to prove our identity.

So next week, I'll sit in the DMV office watching the clock until my appointment comes up.... and then get a new wallet that fits my license more snugly.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.