Over the past couple of years I’ve noticed a curious new practice in stores when I use my credit card: I often must produce another piece of identification to demonstrate that the credit card is mine.
Could there be any more obvious moment in daily life when the absence of a solid core to the identities that we routinely claim to possess is more evident but overlooked? For there was a time when the signature on the card, matching our own at the counter when they processed our transaction, was all we needed. Sign here. Compare the signatures. Have a nice day. Then, as purchases migrated to the phone and eventually to the internet, we needed to be able to tell the newly invented three digits on the back of the card (to prove that the plastic card was actually in our possession, presumably addressing issues of electronic fraud–but hardly demonstrating that the account signified by the card was “ours,” of course). Now, when using it in person, we need to authenticate the card (and thus ourselves as the one possessing it) by producing yet another piece of ID.
Question: when will we need to produce a third document to anchor the second that in turn authorizes the first? And then a fourth…? For if we no longer trust the correspondence of signatures then why trust the picture ID that I produce to “prove” that the credit card is my own? Teenagers wanting to get into bars forge those all the time, don’t they?
But so long as we don’t ask such awkward questions, and providing that we show whatever we’re asked to produce, then it all runs rather smoothly, of course. (Much as the accrediting associations that now govern higher education, and judge the credentials of professors, have authority only so long as we don’t ask who credentials them, and so on, and so on….) For in the proper circulation of such demonstrations I’m a me and you’re a you. And that’s that.
Which brings to mind a (no doubt unintentionally) ironic deferral of significance, near downtown Tuscaloosa: a sign that points to yet another sign which then marks the presence of a site that stands where something (a long past present) is now absent.
WWDS (What Would Derrida Say)?