We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be. – Kurt Vonnegut
Web literate individuals have a multitude of opportunities to utilize digital spaces and tools to create versions of our identities. We can create and host our own websites to share and archive our work. We can use social media to share this work out with others online. It is within the intersection of these materials that we can build and maintain an identity in digital spaces. We create a trail of digital breadcrumbs that help create the residue that makes up our online identities.
The challenge as we create an identity across numerous digital spaces is that this version of ourselves is often incomplete. Many online social networks act as silos and trap your information there and do not share it with other spaces. There is also the possibility that the business that owns the digital space will change their business model and your materials will disappear. For example, as I write this post, LinkedIN has recently been sold, Twitter is for sale, and there are regular questions about what Facebook and Google do with your information and posts. What would you do if one of these social networks deleted or moved the posts and content you shared? You should also consider what happens when someone meets you for the first time and they “Google” you. Depending on where they search, they might get an incomplete picture of you.
For these reasons, I believe that individuals should build their own personal cyberinfrastructure. In this you actively frame, curate, share, and direct your own engagement streams throughout the learning environment. This means that you develop and direct the information streams that individuals use to interact with you online. To get us started, I’ll detail three steps to use as you identify and develop a plan for your digital identity. In subsequent posts I go into more specifics about building an online hub to connect all of these spaces.
Who are you? Who would you like to be?
As you begin this process, consider the identity that you would like to have online. You may already have multiple identities and accounts online. You may have partial or incomplete portions of your identity across these spaces. At this point, none of this matters. As you craft your digital identity, you have the opportunity to be anything that you would like to be. You will write yourself into being in digital spaces.
Open up your journal or a new blank writing space. Take twenty minutes and write six words that identify who you are. Only six words…no more…no less. These six words may be who you would like to be, or who you think you should be. But, in this process, you need to identify yourself in six words.
These six words should be in a place that is easily accessible and displayed in plain sight in your workspace. You’ll want to revisit these six words over the a week or two as you begin this process. You’ll also want to continuously revisit these six words and revise if needed. In my own experience I frequently come back and revise my six words as my career and life changes.
What will you look like online?
The internet presents us with opportunities to use multimodal information (text, images, videos, audio) to express ourselves. As such, you’ll have many choices about design and visual aesthetics that you’ll need to make as you create and build this identity. You’ll need to start to collect a stockpile of materials that you would want to use in the representations of your identity.
Select images, photos, images, and colors that represent the identity you would like to use as your digital identity. One of the first places you’ll need to make a decision is in the image that you use for profile pictures. Put simply, will you use a photo, or selfie for your profile picture? You don’t have to. Some of my students use profile pictures, while others decide to use some other image or background to as their profile picture. I use an avatar that was developed by an eighth grade student that was in one of my last classes I taught before beginning my doctoral work. I use this avatar to represent my online identity to ground myself of these experiences and to stick out a bit from the usual collection of selfies that people share online.
You should also begin to identify other images, colors, and design elements that you’ll want to use as you write yourself into being online. Build yourself a scrapbook in Pinterest or some other bookmarking tool to collect these resources. Look online at other websites to see what designs you like. Identify and save these materials for future reference.
How far will you take this?
As you develop your digital identity, you’ll begin to have questions about audience and purpose for your interactions online. In future posts we’ll discuss this and what information you share about yourself, and what you keep private. At this point, you should consider how far you want to extend this version of your digital identity you’re in the process of creating. You’ll need to think about whether or not this new identify will be used in the various social networks and spaces that you frequent online.
Once you have your six words written and an understanding of how you’ll look online, go to each of your accounts and social networks and edit the information they have about you. I strive for consistency in how I’m represented across these spaces. I believe that by keeping your design choices consistent across multiple spaces, you create a sense of professionalism and polish in your presented materials.
As you edit your information across social networks, this might include using the profile image across all of your spaces. You might choose to use the six words that you wrote earlier as your bio for your profile. In future work, you might choose to link your hub to these other spaces to let people connect with you across other spaces.
Once again, this is the first step in a much longer process. We regularly spend a great deal of time preparing and polishing our identity in the “real world.” We have a vision of who we are as individuals and ensure that our grooming habits, clothes, personas, and colleagues all mirror this vision. Most times we pride ourselves on being organized and presenting ourselves in a positive light. Much of this veneer of professionalism and organization is not carried through to our digital identity.
By having a manual of who we are, and who we would like to be digitally, we can create consistency in how we represent ourselves. Remember to regularly revisit these guidelines and edit as needed. I also advise possibly keeping these guidelines offline and for your own information. This allows you to keep a plan in mind, and review your plans as you encounter new technologies you might like to use.
I’ll soon hold a webinar to guide you through some of the elements in this post. I’m also working on a series of online classes to help provide critical feedback in this process. Subscribe to my newsletter to get updates about this and other work.
Also published on Medium.