Identity revisited. Exploring the boundaries of our online selves.
A few Internet years ago I wrote a post about my own identity online. I was trying to collect my thoughts around what I show and not show in various online spaces. I lingered on hyperlinked ideas of how up close and personal blogging can be as well as the certainty that you may be quite private and still reveal who you are. At least, the bits of yourself that can fuel these connections we make online, even nurture them into sincere friendships.
My mind was drifting along with some tweets the other night, when I felt this 2011 post and the idea of how I network online needs revisiting.
Alec Couros posed this question:
What is your personal/professional policy in terms of what you talk about on Twitter and what you avoid talking about? #edchat— Alec Couros (@courosa) March 6, 2016
Further down the thread, Alec focuses his thinking camera lenses:
"well, perhaps not policy but tendencies over a given time that retroactively provide your usual limits."
I heard myself drafting a few responses in my mind, which I never got round to tweeting.
Why? -you ask.
My not responding fluently and confidently could be, at first, charged to some degree of shame or fear suddenly surfacing to silence me. Perhaps, this silence could be hinting at some gender issue. My guess -or my preconception- is that men tend to be more prolific and brave to speak their thoughts online. I lack serious statistics but, a bird's view of people I read and follow gives me the impression it is mostly men doing the talking. There are women bloggers I know who gradually post less, much less frequently than slow male bloggers. Of course, you cannot generalise.
Back to my own silence. I think it's due to a simpler issue. In order to answer that tweet I should've had to bullet point topics I do not mention online and break my own rules. Frankly, I feel quite good and safe sticking to boundaries of my own making whether online or not.
I do not regret those unwritten tweets. I am more fascinated by digging into a mysterious source of trust in myself that tells me something is very important in that question which definitely needs answering, yet -all at once- I feel something, at first elusive to classification, needs rewording to make sense. At least for me. So I go into pause mode.
When the ideas and words suddenly sound as if I were listening to music from the bottom of a swimming pool, that is the moment I know an important issue for me has been touched. I need not lose myself in the stream. I need out, out where I can do some slow thinking far from the twitter race track of responses. My version of slow thinking looks like a blank page, a proper keyboard and my cup of tea. Offline. And time, oh yeah.
What makes Alec's question so compelling?
Five years ago I pondered on what I post online. What you get to see of me as a result of my decisions. Alec's question points at how personal or professional you choose to be online. It was the slight perspective shift towards the process that kidnapped my thoughts the other night.
How you post is often taken for granted. If you become fluent online, you may easily skip this reflection and go straight to what should be discussed. It is important to mark the omission because what you skipped (hey, what you inadvertently silenced) could point to the cogs in a broken online machine that need assessing and replacing. How do you get to respond or not to important human issues online? What drives you? What triggers you? There's a starting point for fruitful conversations about topics still unnamed and hidden behind the hype, the flashlights of the tech being used. If we thought about alternatives to framing questions like...
Is (name the tool) good or bad for (pick your interest), what would we be discussing instead?
The tool is a mere anecdote, not the story.
People who do not have an existence in social networks speak of Facebook or Twitter as places you go to and contaminate yourself with the surroundings. Really? Are you a different self when you change online space? A simple Google search can be so telling.
How personal or professional you choose to be online and why is no doubt a great question.
What kind of bells did the original question ring to trigger my suspicious mind and bring me to a response halt?
Now I clearly see it was the word Twitter that stopped me. Twitter used to mean a gathering place we go to. To me Twitter is just paper sticky notes, the Internet is the place.
Most people (me too) use Twitter for goofy stuff, Phatic function role in communication (I know, Roman Jakobson's theory is dated, but it helps my point here). That trivial, seemingly unimportant use of the platform is so, so human. Until Twitter first appeared, edubloggers were experts I profoundly admired and responded to in fairly formal blog comments. Today, a few of those experts are friends I hold very dear. How did that happen?
I see the point that if we can discuss important social issues on Twitter, we can discuss them on the blog. But why wouldn't the reverse also apply? The idea that certain media (social networks or good old letters) are a more appropriate means depending on the message is worth exploring. There is a huge difference between clicking a love button on Twitter or spelling out to the other person that you love them. Those are choices. It is not the tool but how you privately position yourself in front of it. Even before that, you may have already decided how open or reserved you will be on Internet mediated contexts. Through time that can change.
Common sense and literacy can help you in online interactions, but ultimately you decide how you involve yourself publicly. Self-awareness (or lack of) about your drive is probably at the root of understanding/misunderstanding intentions or telling honest people from scammers online. It is a safety issue. How we go online is probably what we should be talking about to our students. We will never be able to test how much they learn from it. Learning proof is probably not that important. Focus shift is. If we just focus on the measurable what and skip the subtleties of the elusive how we construct our experiences and relationships online, do we qualify for teaching students today?
Discussing contents to guarantee our students secure an employment in the future is far from enough. Most of our students are going to first meet significant others on the Internet. We do not want them to fall prey of catfish. We are not experts ourselves, we are learning. We need to discover and accept our retroactive steps and feelings towards the people we have friended online. Students google us. They crave for our own stories. The answer to that is not a power point with safety rules before you post. An honest account of what we believe are possible ways of building relationships across continents is ever so powerful. That's teaching, the kind of teaching we do when we simply open up and share ourselves in casual conversational style.
Can you do that? Lisa can.
Hey, if I had answered the tweet, I probably wouldn't have written this post. Ah... the carrousel a woman's mind can be while we stay behind a screen voraciously reading while still silent.
I find that fascinating.
Credit where credit is due, i.e. inspiration attribution:
This post was powered by the online presence of (the real) Dr Alec Couros, whom I strongly recommend following. You can count on his answer if you reach him with your thoughts anywhere he dwells online. Far from closing your thinking with irrefutable conclusions, he'll provide further food for thought, which can distract you from the job you should be doing. Consider yourselves fairly warned.