On the course description I posted these questions which I hoped to explore with you this week:

  • To what ends do we enact our digital identities and under whose gaze?
  • What are we learning about ourselves and our limits as we navigate a "new normal" that relies heavily on our digital presence both professionally and personally?
  • Who are we when our digital entanglements are stripped down to a bare minimum?

These are big questions that beg for reflection, for slowing down to survey the landscape and also once we've found something interesting to investigate more deeply. Or let's say that's my hope, at least. Already in wrestling with trying to define and capture what digital identity is, we've had to look at our own habits and behaviors to figure out not just what we think but actually what we do. Because as much as we can theorize about platforms and personalities, the deeper insights tend to come once we learn to be honest with ourselves about our actions and motivations and ask ourselves what they mean.

Through the survey I learned that many of you are asking similar questions about actions, habits, and dispositions as we show up on, through and in digital media. Here are some examples:

  • What does it mean to be a historian online?
  • How to minimize harm and maximize the effectiveness of online communication...
  • In what ways does social media culture (esp. facebook) influence the digital identity one accepts for themselves?
  • What is my digital identity?
  • How does digital identity align with the concept of dual identity of post-secondary instructors?
  • How do our online identities interact/ manifest/ affect our other identities?
  • How do we talk to others about DI when they do not recognize these as valid?

Each text, conversation, keynote, reflection ideally brings us closer to the kind of understanding we're seeking. While this reflects my hope, I recognize that it is, perhaps more than anything else, a mantra I hold out for myself as we proceed through this action- and thought-packed week of ruminations on our lives online and off.

In her book, Lurking: How A Person Became A User, JoAnne McNeil documents the many ways in which we have been transformed by the internet. In her introduction she writes:

The story of the internet is not a tale of sanctuary taken for granted and trod on. The internet was never peaceful, never fair, never good, but early on it was benign, and use of it was more imaginative, less common, and less obligatory. Blight always lurked beneath the internet's enchantments , and beside the chaos is wonder. It is an ether that fills the abyss of times and loneliness. It is a venue for curiosity and longing. Life online is powered by traits and conditions in opposition: anonymity and visibility, privacy and transparency, real and fake, centralized and decentralized, physical and digital, friend and stranger, autonomy and constraint, with an operational clash of values between human ambiguity and machine explicitness. Humanity is the spice, the substrate, that machines cannot replicate. At its worst and at its best, the internet extracts humanity from users and serves it back to other users. (p. 9)

When we look at our own, very personal internet histories, what do we find? Where have we created our necessary rooms? What kinds of tradeoffs have we made in the process? How do you feel about that last statement: "the internet extracts humanity from users and serves it back to other users."? We'll talk about this on our discussion board.

To help us think further on these questions, I want to offer this excerpt from the audiobook version of Lurking which Joanne McNeil kindly shared with me. (See, there's that Twitter bonus again.)  

For your further consideration, I submit this structured dialogue I conducted with my librarian colleague, Mischele Jamgochian in which we talk about professional digital identity, useful messages and what we wish people thought more about in terms of their online engagement.

Our prompts were:

  • Tell me something about digital identity in your professional life.
  • Tell me something you wish people thought more about regarding their digital identity.
  • Tell me a useful message you've received about digital identity.

A Creative Invitation

If you could draw a map of your digital life, what would it look like? Which activities, services, platforms, devices, necessities would it include? How would you define boundaries and borders? What would you leave out?

If not a map, what other kind of representation might you choose?

Using whatever you have at your disposal - paper, screen, canvas - try creating a map of your digital life. No stress. There are no expectations about what it should look like or what it should include. Maps can speak to us in multiple ways and how we sketch or draw directions and landmarks will depend on our intended audience. If you are so inclined, please share your map with us on SeeSaw or in the discussion forum.

Photo by Марьян Блан | @marjanblan / Unsplash

~ Read next post in Digital Identity, ~

Digital Identity and Technophobia/Technophilia

Posted by Sherri Spelic

3 min read