Due to the ubiquity of the Internet and other digital technologies, individuals have tremendous opportunities to develop their digital identity. These new spaces and tools bring with them specific literacy practices that help us think about how these tools might be used to read, write, and communicate. If thoughtfully utilized, we have tremendous opportunities to reimagine education, literacy, and identity. The challenge in this is that we do not often control our own information or identity online.
Previously we believed that there was a difference between the online and offline spaces in which we exist. In a Post-Snowden world, we understand that there really isn’t any difference between our actions in the online world, and the “real spaces” around us. We leave trails of data in our daily interactions are potentially under constant surveillance from business, government, and other entities. Our online and offline interactions are woven together into a narrative that forms different parts of our identity. It follows us as we browse online and through the aisles at our local market.
This data, and the resultant parts of our identity are then split out across silos known as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIN, and other spaces in between. These online social networks act as silos and trap your information there and most times do not share it with other spaces. The end result is an identity spread across numerous digital spaces that is often incomplete. Exacerbating this challenge is that these spaces can delete, move, or modify access to your content as they modify algorithms.
To address these concerns, I believe that individuals should build their own personal cyberinfrastructure. Framed by Gardner Campbell, this describes actively framing, curating, sharing, and directing your own engagement streams throughout the learning environment. This means that you take control of the various parts of your digital identity and shape the digital identity that you want. In this post I’ll detail three considerations that you should have as you plan and develop your personal cyberinfrastructure.
Identify how public or private you want to be
As you begin developing your personal cyberinfrastructure, you’ll have to consider how public you’ll want to be online. How much of your private information will you share with others. My default setting is mostly set to “open.” This means that I think, share, and reflect openly online. I have a variety of reasons for doing this, and I’ve definitely had many colleagues ask “why in the world would you share these things online?” For the discussion in this post, please understand that “open” works for me, and it has been an evolving process. You need to decide how public or private you want to be. I think there is a sliding scale between radical transparency and not sharing at all.
I also believe there are opportunities to create different identities in different places, and share more in one space that you would another. I often have colleagues question how I would give this advice…but I do it in my own practice. I share more personal information on Facebook than I do on Twitter, Google+, or LinkedIN. On Facebook I’m friends with more of my family members and I’ll share (or should I say my Wife shares) photos of our kids. I don’t share this content on my other social networks. This is a decision that I made and it primarily is based on the purpose and audience that I have defined for each of these spaces. I’ll speak more about that below.
As I stated up above, the first step is to think about your various networks and social spaces that you frequent online. Take out a writing space and list each one, and indicate how public, or private you are…and intend to be. This will help inform what you connect to other spaces online. Once again, you need to think deeply about what you keep public and what is definitely private online. There are incredible opportunities with sharing online, but there are also enormous risks. With great power comes great responsibility. Understand what you’re getting yourself into.
Identify your purpose and intended audience
As detailed in an earlier post, you have the opportunity to identify and develop the digital identity that you’d like to have. In this, you can utilize a variety of digital texts and tools to create and curate a specific identity. In the earlier section I indicated that I believe you can carve out multiple versions of your identity across different spaces. I gave an example of how I negotiate this above. I also experience this often with students and colleagues. They’ll indicate that they “already use Facebook to share with their family and don’t want to mix business.” I’ve also had friends suggest that they want to have “fun on Facebook and share jokes or snarky comments.” I even have a couple of colleagues that create dummy Twitter accounts so they can follow and discuss conversations about sports that they don’t people to know about. The key point is that you can create any identity you so choose.
In this, the key element is that you need to make a decision about the purpose and intended audience of each space. You will also need to work a bit harder, and think in an abstract fashion about each of these spaces as if they were for different people. Please also note that as you engage in carving out these different spaces, the social networks will not make it easy on you. Not only are they acting as silos and locking up your info, but they will always ask to connect with your address book and location to connect with other people that you know.
To be a bit more granular in how you think about purpose and audience of each of these spaces, identify the purpose and audience of each of the spaces that you detailed in the list above. As you identify your audience, you should identify your avatar. Avatar in this context primarily comes from business or marketing and refers to an ideal client or targeted audience. As you create and share online, by having an avatar in mind, it will make it much easier to decide whether or not it fits your purpose and audience. In my own work, I have a specific avatar that I envision when I write and share. I know what they look like, what they eat, what are their needs, what questions they will have, and what is their approach point for my information. They even have a name. I say they, because my avatar is a compilation of a couple of colleagues I’ve had over the years. When I write, I’m writing for them. When I share a link on Twitter/Facebook/Google+/LinkedIN…it’s primarily for them. When I started up a newsletter, I did it mostly to help them quickly read and understand things happening that week that they should know.
Develop a map of your online connections
Now that you’ve conducted an audit of your digital spaces in which you hang out, you should bring all of this together by mapping out how this information should all come together. In this process I would use the materials you wrote above as well as the six words you used to identify your digital identity. On a blank writing space, build a semantic map to show how you see all of these spaces connecting. There are also many online programs that you can use for this process, I recommend doing this on paper and keeping with the offline plan you’re building to guide you as you organize your online spaces.
As you build this semantic web, you should keep in mind your intended digital identity, your accepted levels of privacy, and the avatar you’re focusing on. Once you have finally agreed on the elements of this, work your way across your online spaces and edit/revise information as needed. You will also find that you’ll need to revise and iterate your map of online connections. You may also need to revise your previously created materials as you learn more about yourself by building online. As I stated earlier, this may seem counterintuitive to connect across these spaces. The individuals platforms usually do not make it easy to connect the dots from one space to another. In future posts, I’ll recommend creating a hub to connect all of these spaces and share your information out with others. This will give you one link to share across all spaces and pull in your audience.
EDIT: Aaron Davis recommended using Dave White‘s mapping tool as you plan out your spaces and approach to privacy in each space. As White explains, this provides an opportunity to identify yourself as a “visitor” or “resident” across the web. I really like this model and will try it in my own classes.
As an activity that might help you think about the materials presented in this post you might consider creating a quick one page to use until you build your website or blog. Previously I used About.me or Flavors.me as this one hub to connect everything. When working with students, I have them create a quick website using Mozilla Thimble to help organize their thoughts. This gives you a temporary placeholder online, while helping you learn HTML coding. I share either My One Pager or My Six Word Bio and have students remix it and create their own. You can remix it and create your own by clicking the green remix button in the top right of each of the pages.
As I stated in earlier posts, this is a much longer process as you thoughtfully create and curate your online identity. In this process you’re actively and thoughtfully developing the identity that you want. You’re not subscribing to whatever decisions have been made for you by the businesses and designers that offer different platforms. You’re also not subscribing to any narratives about how much input you should have into your own digital literacies and skill sets.
I do not think there is a right or wrong time to start this process. The truth of the matter is that you already have various digital breadcrumbs that already exist from the residue you leave online as you live your life. Much of this information may also be created by others that write or share information about you. You should be the person to frame, curate, share, and direct this information through your own engagement streams.
It is suggested that you save the written materials and plans that you created in this post with the information that you wrote in this post and across these posts. You are compiling a plan that identifies exactly the digital identity that you’d like to have. The next stage of this is to work your way through everything and actually build it all. Let me know if you need support in this process. I’ll soon announce a series of webinars and classes to help you succeed in this work.
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