License to Commune – Day Thirty-One

vine connectedToday I spent time at the DMV to renew my driver’s license. Since I’m turning a certain age soon (in nine days, but who’s counting) they find it necessary to check my vision. Also, there is a new process in place that requires my information and photo be processed through a centralized system. To do this, I am issued a temporary printout of a provisional license until the card is sent in 2-3 weeks. This made me wonder about the history of the driver’s license and what this new change means.

So, Chicago (of course!) and New York City were the first (in 1899) to require a test of driver’s competency before granting permission to drive a motorized vehicle. Missouri and Massachusetts were first 1903) to require a license, but MO did not actually call for an exam to acquire one. Pennsylvania was first to insist the driver be at least 18 years old in 1909, and Connecticut gave permission for those who are 16 or older in 1921. But some states did not include a photo of the driver until well into the 1980s in response to activism by Mother’s Against Drunk Driving, and underage drinking.

It wasn’t until 2005 that the Department of Homeland Security instituted the Real ID Act to set a national standard all states must follow for issuing secure driver’s licenses. Since the US has no national ID card, a Federal guideline is understandable. At the same time, driver’s license protocol is within the purview of each state. Whereas the 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act supported state-federal cooperation to implement the more uniform, secure protocol, Real ID circumvents state input. I certainly appreciate more secure identification, and the newer enhanced versions can be used in lieu of a passport when driving across a border country.

More people travel and work across multiple states, so a connected database is convenient. It does presage another step away from independent state governing, a large piece of the identity of the United States. But is that a bad thing? Centralized databases that encompass more of our lives and liberties do impinge on privacy. At the same time, while we are gravitating away from the mythological ideal of a 1950s era nuclear family, we are becoming still more connected to more people across a broader space—global space. When there are clever computer wizards with extra time on their hands hacking into government and financial systems across this global space, I am glad for some added security and greater recourse when said clever hackers attempt to obtain my documentation.

My daughter lives in a country that has no real traffic laws. She is also getting around on a motorcycle in this crazy land with no traffic laws. In crowded cities. With slender, winding roads. And frequent torrential rainfalls. I know—I rode on the back of her boyfriend’s motorcycle in this crazy traffic, on twisting roads, during a torrential rainfall! I appreciate uniform traffic laws!

As far as privacy is concerned, I wonder how much one might reasonably expect and still have access to convenient, high-tech, deftly connected services. I am absolutely not saying the government or corporations or whomever should have carte blanche access to my personal information. There is sufficient tech to securely mask my identity from necessary information. At the same time (beginning to feel a bit like Tevye’s many hands, ‘on the other hand’) it seems we are often more concerned with privacy than with the implications of how connected we actually are.

No matter how hard I might try to be alone, block others off from access to me, my existence impacts others—and others impact my life. The question is, do I want that influence to be formative or disfiguring? Today’s Ignatius meditation is from John 15:1-8, about how dwelling in the vine makes the branches produce good fruit. And all of the branches are connected to the vine. If mine is malnourished, it will affect a neighboring branch. The key principle here is ‘dwelling.’ To dwell is to live and linger, nourish and nurture, and protect. It implies relating to those with whom I dwell and impacts the confidence with which I enter this great big world—that is, the fruit I produce. Be mindful with me: How do I impact those with whom I am connected? What is beautiful about those connections?

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