I have been thinking a little recently about digital identity. What does our online persona say about us? How do others perceive us? In recent years social media has become an important part of both my professional and personal practice. I love interacting and communicating with people online through a variety of channels; my blog, Twitter, fb, Flickr, Skype, etc.
I have connected with people online and then later met them personally and have felt as if I already knew them really well. Other people, I have become closer to through online interactions. It’s great to feel part of a global, distributed community and I love the mix of light hearted, innocent flirting and serious academic discourse.
Now don’t get me wrong, I also love face-to-face interaction and I am lucky to have so many lovely friends and colleagues. But it is interesting to reflect on the difference between my online persona and the real me. There are just a few close friends who know me well who see a different side to me, a world apart from the out going, extravert I appear online. It is funny how online communication has become so important. It is great to get to know people through fb for example, to learn more about their personal lives, their families, the day-to-day mini-crisis we all have.
What theoretical frameworks can we used to describe the way we interact online? I feel things like Communities of Practice and Communities of Inquiry (although great concepts) are too limiting. With Rebecca Galley we recently developed a Community Indicators framework to describe online interaction, which consisted of four dimensions: presence, identity, social cohesion and creative capability.
But there is also an interesting framework for describing ‘spaces of learning’ developed by Campbell in the seventies might be useful, which consist of four parts. The first is the cave - where you go to reflect – which for me translates into the quiet me time, when I am on my own or with friends. I used to go hill walking in Scotland a lot, I could easily go a whole day without saying a word, drinking in the solitude and tranquility, comfortable in silent companionship with my partner. The second is the fireplace, where you come together with others to listen to stories, the voice of the expert. This for me translates into interactions with others online building stories and discourse together. The third is the mountaintop, where you disseminate to the world. This translates to announcing, communicating, stating. The final one is the watering hole, where you have serendipitous interactions. This happens all the time in fb and Twitter, you connect with new people through others; you suddenly start chatting with people online and start to get to know them a whole lot better.
I also like Gibson’s notion of affordances and the idea that technologies have certain characteristics or affordances, which are only realised through individuals and their personal preferences. We all co-evolve with technologies, my digital environment is now very different to what it was five or ten years ago, social media have become part of my daily practice. I wonder how this will continue to co-evolve? What will my digital environment look like five years from now? What will the balance of the real and digital ‘me’ be?