This is one of four posts encompassing my digital learning mission statement and guiding principles. They are work in progress and I would love your feedback.
A holistic, realistic, and comprehensive understanding and integration of one’s complete life in digital (online) and physical (offline) spaces.
Online and Offline: Integrated
With the advent of digital life we can easily separate our offline and online life into two sperate circles. The first circle contains the events, activities, and identity formed in our offline interactions. The second circle contains fragments of what we do in the offline realm, but filtered and presented online digitally on Facebook, in text messages, or Instagram, for example. The second circle also may contain aspects of one’s identity not shared or reflected in their face-to-face interactions or environments. For example, a seemingly shy and quiet person may have a prolific and interactive social life online. The goal isn’t to require the shy person to engage offline in face-to-face interactions, but rather help the person become their authentic self in both offline and online spaces by using appropriate filters. For example, you may live in Seattle, but on Facebook you might only list the state, or you may be going through a divorce and you might decide not to change your relationship status on Facebook because it is a private (for close friends/family only) situation. These don’t mean you are being inauthentic, rather you are filtering appropriately. An inauthentic example would be you decide to inflate your lifestyle on Twitter to reach a specific audience or manipulate followers by lying for personal gain. Put another way, the goal is to merge the two circles into into a Venn Diagram of sorts where all is your true identity, but you only share certain parts as appropriate.
Balancing Authenticity and Privacy Online
I am passionate about finding ways to integrate our offline (physical) and online (digital) life into a cohesive and comprehensive reflection of our true self. For example, when I post online on Facebook to a particular audience (my “friends”) that should be just as much myself as when I send an email correspondence to a friend or interact with my spouse at the bowling alley or how I treat a fellow gamer when playing World of Warcraft. For example, I am inauthentic to my true self if I hide behind a pseudonym on World of Warcraft and instead of being the generally kind person I am to others in offline spaces, I use unending profanity and derogatory language online.
Cole Stryker (2012) advocates for the need of anonymity and privacy online. Stryker argues that anonymity, privacy, and ability for encryption is what makes the internet function at its best and allows people to be themselves, “Yes, anonymity lets you be a different person, but it also allows you to be who you really are. That’s precious. Let’s not give it up without a fight” (p. 239). I personally struggle between how can we be our best self online–being authentic to our physical face-to-face self represented digitally–and whether we should be anonymous or with our managed and created identity represented through a domain of our own, Twitter account, and an About.me site linked to all of our mediated digital spaces. Stryker argued earlier that our very identity is at stake when we are our true selves on the internet because someone else ends up owning us.
As greater portions of our waking lives migrate to the Web, and as our “real-word” lives and our online lives continue to blur, the conversation becomes increasingly crucial. We are not simply fighting for freedom vs. security, we are fighting for the ownership of our selves. Those bits of data that Mark Zuckerberg wants to sell to advertisers are just as much a part of who you are as your flesh and blood. (p. 230).
Common Sense Media’s recommendation to not use your real name as a screenname is a tangible example of balancing privacy needs and authenticity. Learning how to balance your authentic self online requires a diligent understanding of the terms and privacy policies, mixed with appropriate steps to protect your identity from theft or misuse, and authentically representing yourself.
Privacy and a healthy dose of anonymity are ingredients to a well-balanced digital representation of yourself while navigating the required identity verifying information appropriately. For example, maybe Facebook doesn’t need my real birthday–after all many companies provide services for free because your very blood, as Stryker puts it, is for sale to advertisers.
This guiding principle is important to a well-rounded person and, in particular, digital citizen. My hope would be to create energy and excitement around this relationship and integration of the two circles by helping people understand that who we are and what we do is integral and important to our whole identity. Our life matters when we live in bits and bytes just as much, and maybe more, than when we sit across from someone on the lightrail train or throw a heavy bowling ball down the lane. We can’t neglect either circle. From a theological conviction in guiding this I would connect it to the world of Henri Nouwen and specifically his work Life of the Beloved (2002). The basic premise of the book is that we are created as beloved children of God and that is where we should find out identity. We don’t find out identity in what we do, but in who God has created us to be–as physical, spiritual beings with digital manifestations and interactions. Nouwen’s beautiful discussion reveals the importance of a holistic and fully integrated life in both circles. Howard Gardner and Katie Davis (2013) warn of the constant switching between apps as we try to augment our offline life, but instead become dependent on the apps to the point, “we’re more focused on doing than on being” and missing the actually missing the beautiful moment because we were too busy capturing it and texting someone about it (p. 75).
Common Sense Media (Ed.). (n.d.). What are some good rules for screen names and passwords? Retrieved December 1, 2014, from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/privacy-and-internet-safety/what-are-some-good-rules-for-screen-names-and-passwords
Gardner, H., & Davis, K. (2013). The app generation: How today’s youth navigate identity, intimacy, and imagination in a digital world. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Nouwen, H. (2002). Life of the beloved : spiritual living in a secular world. New York: Crossroad Pub. Co.
Stryker, C. (2012). Hacking the future: Privacy, identity, and anonymity on the Web. New York: Overlook Duckworth.