Entries tagged with “digital identities”.
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Sun 12 May 2013
I’ve been thinking a lot about institutions lately. In trying to trace a narrative line through the sturm und drang around MOOCs and all that they make visible, I’ve been digging into institutional histories, trying to understand what the hell happened in the last thirty years. Who switched the terms of the game of higher education?
I’m looking at you, market forces.
For those of us raised in the world that Stanford researchers in the 70s called ‘the New Institutionalism’ – a world where education’s entire organizational structure was understood to place it firmly “beyond the grip of market forces” (Meyer & Rowan, 2006, p. 3) – it’s all gotten rather bewildering. Many managed not to notice the stealth incursion of for-profit institutions and Pearson into the world of academia (related: the student populations these corporate entities have served, via ESL textbook empires and “the MBA you can probably get into” ads, have not been the white middle-class that still codes “default university student” in North America. Ahem. Just sayin’.). But MOOCs, with their posh ties to Harvard and Stanford and their grandiose claims of revolution, sorta blew that stealth game out of the water.
MOOCs as Enclosure
This past week alone, Coursera moved into professional development for teachers and announced a partnership with Chegg, an online textbook-rental company, to connect MOOC learners with select, limited-time access to texts from large publishers. As Audrey Watters notes, these shifts are beginning to look like the enclosure of education against the very openness that MOOCs began from: “What was a promise for free-range, connected, open-ended learning online, MOOCs are becoming something else altogether. Locked-down. DRM’d. Publisher and profit friendly. Offered via a closed portal, not via the open Web.”
This enclosure is about profit models, not learning. And it profits few, in the end, because – as I got het up about in Inside Higher Ed last week – the societal mythology of education as value really only functions if institutionalized credentials in some way tie to social mobility and lucrative work.
That’s not the game we’re in, anymore.
But here’s the thing: MOOCs are a symptom of change in higher ed, not the source of it. We need to find ways of talking about this enclosure of openness by profit models, without conflating these forces with online ed in general or even entirely with MOOCs.
Because we will not resist the corporatization of education by standing solely for conventional institutionalized models. That horse has left the barn. But in online practices there may still be ways to protect and preserve some of the broad societal concept of the “we” that institutions were intended to enshrine.
MOOCs as Symptom: Networks + Neoliberalism
Basically, this is where we are: traditional institutional education is being encroached upon from all sides. And the big MOOCs conflate the two primary forces for change: networks and neoliberalism.
This is an ugly slide – I kinda like to call the clip art “retro” – but it’s the best illustration I have at the current moment for what I see actually happening to higher ed as we’ve known it. From one side, what George Siemens terms “the Internet happening to education,” or the networked opening of what was conventionally the closed domain of knowledge. From the other, the market incursion into the sphere of education, with its attendant ideological leanings towards the measurable and the profitable.
Last week, Dave & I went to two conferences together. We do the majority of our conference travel independently, so even getting to be at the same events was kind of exotic for us: being invited together was a treat. But blending our two separate strains of thought into a single keynote for the second conference was something we haven’t done in a couple of years, since all the MOOC stuff blew up.
We bickered about process: that’s par for the course, for us. We’ve worked together as long as we’ve known each other, and while our ideas and even perspectives tend to complement the other’s, our ways of getting there are pretty much opposite. (Sidenote: our writing on the MOOCbook has been pretty much two solitudes, enabling us to continue our lawyer-free relationship.)
But in the process of pulling together, between the two of us, three hour-long presentations to be delivered over the course of three days, on separate but intertwined topics, something converged and snapped into focus.
I’ve been looking at networks from an identities perspective for a few years now, trying to understand who we are when we’re online and what it is about this whole experience that actually matters, from an education perspective. Dave’s been wending his way through an exploration of rhizomatic learning as a way of navigating uncertainty within an era of knowledge abundance. Both of us have been thinking a lot about MOOCs and what they mean for change within higher ed. Hell, most of our household income comes from academic institutions, so the current budget crunch hits home.
But it became clear this week that our work needs to be about finding ways to use networks to push back against the neoliberal vision of the future of education. About making clear that the two do not share the same set of interests.
The conflation of the two is everywhere. Salon has an interview with Jaron Lanier today that makes the case that the Internet killed the middle class. Lanier’s arguments conflate networks with neoliberalism, making the latter invisible as a force unto itself. Sure, there are places where networked practices rely on neoliberal approaches to the world, in the sense of Foucault’s “entrepreneur of the self.” And neoliberalism often co-opts networked practices and naturalizes the perception that the two are one and the same.
But I don’t think they are. At least…I don’t think they inherently are.
Whether they become so is up to us. Particularly those of us who share the values espoused by public education. We need to build our learning and teaching networks, share our ideas and our questions and our practices and what works and doesn’t, and refuse to be enclosed.
Institutional concepts of educational practices enclose easily: that is their nature. The transition from institutional models of the classroom to a massive for-profit textbook magnate’s version of the classroom isn’t really much of a transition, except in what gets lost in terms of public values.
Networks don’t actually enclose easily. Hence the idea of “participate or perish” that Dave & I came up with the night before our keynote at #WILU2013 in Fredericton: a new academic imperative for our times.
Don’t just publish, because the institutional models are encroached upon and becoming enclosed. Participate. Make things different. Don’t wait for it to be your “job:” that’s institutional thinking. Institutional jobs won’t be there if we let the profit models gut education entirely.
Here are our slides from WILU2013, which trace some of these ideas through our own research lenses.
And here are the slides from my Spotlight Speaker session at CONNECT2013, where I focused in more detail on the participation and networking side of things: on how to go beyond institutional identities. Help yourself.
(Postscript: the “Education is Broken” Narrative as Sniff Test)
I want to return to this one in more depth…but a quick thought. The phrase “education is broken” gets thrown around a lot in the current educational climate. It is, in a sense, one of the key reasons neoliberalism and networks get conflated: it’s the area in which they agree.
But from one perspective, the idea that education is broken is a learning claim. From the other, it’s a credentialing and business model claim.
If you’re in the process of learning to tell the difference, don’t necessarily run from anything that claims education is broken. Rather, ask what aspect of ed it frames as broken. Is it the learning? You might be looking at a network. Is it the profit model and the structure and the means of offering credential? Probably neoliberalism and enclosure at work.
You’re welcome. ;)
Tue 19 Jun 2012
Out, I say!—One; two: why, then
’tis time to do’t.—Hell is murky.—Fie, my lord, fie, a soldier, and
afeard? What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our
pow’r to accompt?—Yet who would have thought the old man to
have had so much blood in him?
– MacBeth, Act 5, Scene 1
It’s the dead technologies and media that fascinate me most.
The header of my blog – my old blog, my now-closed blog – was a manual typewriter, the kind with the glossy round black keys that clacked and sometimes crossed swords under clunky fingers, bringing the whole writing process to a halt. When sweetsalty Kate generously and boldly convened a personal intervention for my long-neglected outta-the-2005-box theme and asked what I wanted as a header, it was the only answer.
I learned to type on one of those old typewriters…the very last year before my high school bought computers. My grandmother’s 1923ish model now decorates the sideboard in my living room. I remember her showing me how to peck out my name when I was barely high enough to reach the keys: typewriters are one of the few technologies I’ve always had an intimate relationship with.
I like their aesthetics, their faint whiff of old-school literary pretensions, their status as communications technologies overtly and utterly left behind in the ever-rabid one-upsmanship of communications technologies.
I’d never use one to write, though.
My blog was, at its core, an identity blog: the typewriter was my avatar. In a sea of momblogs and narrative blogs visually defined by wry martini glasses and bright colours, Kate gave me a header that felt like…me.
If you study digital identities, killing your own first – and best-known – digital identity is a bizarrely meta kind of experience.
Last Friday afternoon, I took a deep breath and hit publish on the very last cribchronicles post. Until I did so, I wasn’t entirely sure I’d go through with it.
Then I did, and it was done.
A performative utterance: thus this ends. Curtain.
To speak it – and have it taken up, received – is to make it so. Perhaps exponentially so on social media. The medium rewards spectacle with attention: the post resulted in my biggest day of blog hits EVER. Would that you could kill a blog every day. Ahem.
Minutes after I tweeted my blogicide, I saw a Twitter link scroll by to Sarah Wanenchak’s cyborgology post on abandoned digital spaces. What’s interesting about digital technologies is they don’t become ruins, it said. They just stop having a future.
And I nodded, because that’s it, exactly.
Dead technologies are much easier than dead people. They don’t disappear; their traces remain. You simply relate to them differently.
They become bakelite and metal artefacts, like the typewriter. Or time capsules that look the same as they did when alive, like my blog. Except that the counter on the sidebar that marked six+ years of steady building and telling, month by month? It goes still.
When I caught sight of it and realized that I just ended that, just declared it dead, I sat on my couch with tears streaming down my face.
It sounds funny. Silly, maybe.
When I read about blogs for my research I always have to brush off the hackles that rise and give me porcupine shoulders, all prickles and chips. I know too well that the blogosphere – if it can be said to exist and many say it can’t and whether there is unity or no, there, I don’t actually care, entirely – is full of crap. I know that too many blogs are simplistic and commercial or navel-gazing and indulgent or pick your slander of the month, really…you name it and somebody, somewhere, has blogged it and likely been pretty successful at it, too, quality or no.
But the books I keep stumbling about blogging are clearly by people whose experience of blogging has been utterly different to my own.
If you blog, and you use your blog to actually connect with people…things happen. Maybe you make money, or maybe you don’t – I didn’t, though that is not the point – but the voice(s) you develop in that space become networked, tied, embedded. Bigger than you.
Now, I can critique that swelling narrative from a thousand different positions, and in my dissertation, I probably will. But I haven’t yet seen an academic book about blogging that understands it. That reflects it and honours it, even while analyzing why and how.
I wrote that blog for 38 months.
I published 525 posts, in 18 categories.
The categories emerged as I wrote, and were as un-thought-through as the title of the blog, which I lit on casually the night before I wrote the first post. If you had told me I’d have even half the run I did at that blog, I’d have spent more than three minutes naming it.
But so it goes. And it is fitting, because I closed it as I opened it: without being sure where I was going. I started the post Friday morning because the siren of the silent blog always rings loudly in my head and gets louder the longer the thing lies fallow: I’m here! I’m waiting! Speak through me!
I started and wondered if I had anything left to say. And then I realized what I wanted to say was fin.
(A play on words, of course: the space had begun in part so I had a place to say Finn. The blog let me write him into my life; was a performative space where I could be, however invisibly, his mother. All my work on digital identities is centered around the concept of performativity: that we enact versions of ourselves into being by our digital practices, by citing or “doing” things that are understood and taken up by others as who we are. In the performative space of my blog, I wrote myself into my own strange version of motherhood: to living and dead, Oscar and Finn, then to Josephine. I wrote myself into my identity as a writer. Now I have other things to write about; other things to figure out.)
But I did not write alone. On my blog, there have been 14, 298 comments. They are as much a part of that living archive as my words. They fed my words, received my words, made the experience of writing my words a relational one, an exchange.
A few more comments may creep in: unless I actively close the blog to commenters, the space will always be permeable, interactive in that sense. But the flow will dwindle and dry up. That it does not have a future is maybe the saddest thing of all, for me…comments, that diminishing resource, have always been my favourite thing about blogging.
I was late cottoning on to the practice of actually encouraging and hosting conversation in the comments space….but probably a good few hundred are still from me.
The rest are from perhaps two or three hundred people, maybe a few more, who have created intersecting networks of connection around me, ebbing and flowing over six years, leaking out into other spaces, both digital and physical.
You were kind, in the comments. I have been silent. My feelings exceed me, exceed anything I can say. Or maybe I just, for once, don’t want the last word. But I thank you. I thank you for noticing. For marking the end with me.
That comments section would make a damn good Irish wake.
Though many of you said, there or elsewhere…”killed is the wrong word.” And in a sense, you are right. My blog is not dead: it will not rot. Futureless, perhaps, it will nonetheless remain indefinitely, a more or less finished body of work. I hear you. I am proud of it.
But the voice?
The voice in which I wrote that blog was a living thing. And, last Friday, with one performative utterance and a MacBeth allusion, I put it to sleep.
Yes, I could turn back around and revive it at any time: that is one of the privileges and prerogatives of a digital identity. But I will not.
Its traces remain, in the networks, the opportunities, the friendships. It is enough. It has to be enough.
There is a thesis to write. My energy needs to go there, to breathe life into that voice, not the voice that wrote cribchronicles.
And now I get to relate to the blog differently. Now, with my bloody Lady MacBeth hands, I get to examine it as something completed, finite: now, it becomes a typewriter, a piece of dead media.
I have killed few things in my life. I have also brought few things to life that made as much of a difference to me as the blog did. And thus even in its death, I stare at it, fascinated.
Sat 12 May 2012
What an interesting and slightly discombobulating ride this whole #change11 facilitation experience has been.
As I noted at the outset this week, this idea of digital identities and selves is for me simply a way of teasing out and naming some the threads of possibility and difference that digital sociality makes available to us. I offered up the six digital selves as ways to begin a conversation about how technological affordances and practices and norms shape us – not as separate or summative representations of who we are when we’re online.
You all have taken the conversation and run with it, and I have enjoyed trying to trace and map it as it’s unfolded.
This was my first attempt to think about networked publics within the reflective, participatory, social circuits of a networked public, and I’ve learned a lot.
Mostly, I learned a lot about myself, or my selves, rather, and how the particular affordances of this learning structure affected my own sense of identity.
The Performative Self
I got to share and perform my academic self at a scale that isn’t always available to me as a grad student on a small, primarily undergraduate campus. And in pushing my own comfort zones of digital performativity by stepping beyond writing or face-to-face presenting to video and liveslide facilitation – both of which are new to me – I got to feel, for the first time in a long time, both how heady and how intimidating performativity can be.
Butler claims we bring ourselves into being, performatively, by constant repetitive, gestural citation of practices that are intelligible according to the norms of our culture. It hadn’t occurred to me how performing a role while still getting up to speed in appearing, say, intelligible – or intelligent – in that role can be extraordinarily intimidating: at least, it hadn’t occurred to me in years, since the last time I stepped so far out of my comfort zone to do something in public. The intimidation factor of performative acts may be something to consider when encountering people who are resistant to social networks and digital endeavours: online interactions tend to be more visibly or overtly performative than other aspects of our lives, and self-consciousness may contribute to some people’s hesitancy to engage.
The Quantified, Articulated self
My quantified self notices that I got a bunch of new Twitter followers this week, and my articulated self was excited to find out who they were and start to connect in return. I’m not a particularly good quantified self, however, in the sense that my practices don’t maximize my retention of Twitter followers, because I don’t auto-follow back. If you followed me, and you’d like to be part of a mutual network, just say hi.
My quantified self was mildly disappointed to notice that my Klout score didn’t measurably improve during the flurry of conversation this week, though again, if I were a better quantified self, I’d actually be tracking how many conversations and blog posts and FB chats I engaged in. Instead I just threw myself – splat – into the deep end and tried to connect. I had fun, even if my quantified self was mildly disappointed in me.
The Participatory Self
This, for me, was the self that this week was really all about.
Networked participation is such a different pedagogical model – if it could even be called that – than any other teaching or facilitation experience I’ve had. It’s the piece that makes this connectivist MOOC model so appealing to me: it’s distributed, and while the facilitator is accorded a disproportionate place of prominence within the network, the flow of ideas is many-to-many, not many-to-one. Other people’s comments on participants’ posts were as much as part of the conversation as my own: I chased the conversation, rather than driving it. In a distributed model, it’s easy to lose track of stuff unless you have a more organized quantified self than I do, tracking everything with apps and analytics, but I still managed to stumble on a lot of ideas and conversations about digital identities this week: to such an extent that my own ideas are shifting to adapt to and accommodate what they’ve encountered.
Finding your thoughts reflected forty different ways takes you beyond reflexivity – or the self looking at itself being watched – to diffraction, the optical creation of difference in the gaze process. It’ll take awhile, I think, for my participatory self to come to terms with how this experience has altered its own sense of self: my thesis thanks all you who had a part in the process.
The Asynchronous Self
Interestingly, the week’s facilitation centered around a synchronous live event, for which I was delighted to have nearly 50 people present (pipe down, Quantified Self) and engaged on the slides and in the chat. This drove home for me a point I don’t think I made particularly well in my first post of the week: appreciation of asynchronicity as an affordance does NOT mean lack of appreciation for real-time connection and live interaction, whether mediated or no. I may not especially want to chat on the phone, person-to-person, at any given time of your choosing, but being together with others in an interactive manner in real time for an event? Co-presence helps strengthen ties in social networks both online and off.
In fact, in an attention economy like social media, the capacity to create what Dave Cormier and Dave White coined “eventedness” a couple of year back is a big part of creating coherence and belonging within networked publics. Thanks to all of you who came out and who tweeted and shared comments from and responses to the livechat, thus helping ensure I didn’t feel like I’d thrown a MOOC and nobody came.
Where I particularly appreciated the affordance of asynchronous communication this week was in the one-to-one contacts I got to make with many of you through your comments here and your posts on your own blogs. It’s true that in many cases there are real limitations placed on the depth of our contact and discussion because of the asynchronicity of blog comments, but that asynchronous factor is what allows most of to participate in something like a MOOC in the first place. We’re all professionals, with other commitments. Taking a week out of our lives to attend a face-to-face class – or teach it – is a privilege the majority of us couldn’t swing. So the asynchronous self – with all its good and bad – is necessary just in making this kind of experience possible.
The Augmented Reality Self
Augmented reality is, in its simplest form, simply a way of saying that our digital lives enhance and augment – but are not separate or divided from – our physical selves. This view of our digital practices suggests that identity is multiple across spheres, and actions in each sphere influence all the selves we perform.
This was vividly driven home to me yesterday, when my dear old friend Jeff Lebow synchronized and posted last Wednesday’s video, audio, live slides and discussion session and posted it on YouTube. It was awesome of Jeff to do it, as I’d only gotten around to getting the slides up on Slideshare, but not to syncing the audio, let alone the chat.
So yep, awesome. Except then I watched it. And I lisped. Badly. All my sibilant sounds were like loud hissing feedback, and the little clicks that sometimes punctuate my speech were more like chicken clucks, and overall I sounded like I had marbles in my mouth.
And my first thought was not, Wow, wtf happened to the audio? It was Oh. My. God. I’ve been lisping my whole life and NOBODY TOLD ME! Because I forgot about the affordances – or lack thereof – of the digital self. I forgot that the self I see reflected back at me in my augmented reality is not always actually real.
I said aloud, “The sixth sheik’s sixth sheep is sick” and listened anxiously. Not much lisp, really. I clicked over to my introductory video for this week, and thought I sounded distinctly less hissy.
I wondered, aghast, how I’d managed to develop a lisp in only three short days! At forty!
Then it occurred to me that possibly it was just the audio. But my Performative Self was concerned that nobody else was going to know that, and my branded self worried I’d never get a speaking engagement again.
The video gave me an identity crisis. Because I live enmeshed between atoms and bits, and sometimes I forget that the two don’t operate quite the same. ;)
The Branded Self
I find it interesting to think about how different communities and networks emphasize some of the selves more than others do: in the communities that tend to converge around MOOCs, for example, there is minimal incursion – to date – of monetization and its attendant practices. Facilitating this course this week brought me not a single sponsorship proposal (happily), whereas within momblogging and narrative blogging circles, daily pitches to sample and pimp products and events and releases have long been the norm for bloggers and community members with any prominence. I’ve chosen not to monetize my blogging, outside of speaking gigs, so for me the regular pitches to Try Product X for Mother’s Day! and Tell Your Readers All About Our Marvellous New Whatchamacallit! are more irritations than opportunities, but they simply come with the territory. And they shape the territory: in momblogging circles, the Me Inc. perspective on one’s practices and identity is just how things operate, even for those of us who stay outside the territory of overt monetization. I have business cards for my blog, because that is how that sphere operates.
So this one? Was a bit refreshing, because of the ways in which this community and its discourses exist in part as a pushback to the encroaching neoliberalism in higher ed today. But don’t think it’s not coming, people.
As my final word to #change11, let me play prognosticator and prophet from a land in which branded, commodified selves have a long heritage and say this.
All of us in higher ed need to grapple openly and creatively with our relationships to the monetization that’s on the horizon. Because it’s there, and it’s looming, and now is the time to come to terms with both what it threatens and what it offers.
The play and experimentation – and volunteerism – represented by our connectivist MOOCs and their attendant practices are increasingly less visible in the cultural discourse around education and technologies. That’s no fault of anyone here, in my opinion. Nor does it mean we’re headed for a dystopia. But the game is changing, and a field that’s been remarkably free of the particular affordances -and structuring limitations – of economic capital is entering a new era.
Yesterday, The Atlantic posted the first mainstream media article on MOOCs that simply took the term at face value, as if the word popped up history-less last fall with the creation of the Stanford AI course and MITx. But their MOOC model is not this MOOC model, make no mistake. And if the tweets that came out of the Education Innovation Summit last month were any indication, a bevy of Ed Reform-minded politicians and movers and shakers are lined up to put dollars behind start-ups in ed and higher ed. Again, not necessarily a dystopic picture, but one to be wary of. And to be strategic about.
My own experience as a blogger in a field long since monetized is this. The branding and commodification hasn’t, contrary to my initial pearl-clutching horror, ruined everything. I know monetized bloggers who push the narrative and conversation envelope, though often from within specific niches, and who participate and perform within their networked publics in ways that add real value to their communities. And I don’t begrudge them the money they make doing so. Everybody needs to eat. Those who dismiss all monetization as “selling out” are often safely ensconced in the kind of pensioned jobs that others of us may never see.
But those niches change things, as does the sense of oneself as an identity within a market.
Facilitating #change11 this week made one thing very clear for me: networks are what matters about what we do here. This is a networked public, and the affordances of that networked public are what makes this experience so different from traditional hierarchical models of learner and knower.
And here’s the thing, looking down the road. Brand can exist in networks. Neoliberalism can exist in networks. Monetization can exist in networks, to an extent. But where these operate as trojan horses for bringing hierarchical institutional power back into the game to dominate, box out and silence the creative and connective power of networks, then be nervous. The affordances of the Internet open up all kinds of possibilities and selves and worlds. I do not want to go back into the box, people.
I opened my presentation the other day with Haraway’s cyborg, and I leave you with her. She is subversive, irreverent, blasphemous to her origins. Haraway envisioned her as the illegitimate child of the military-industrial complex, who contained within her oppositional, intimate, always relational self the capacity to escape the teleology of the 20th century story.
A year or so ago, I began playing with the idea of the branded cyborg; Haraway’s cyborg with the explicit digital identity of brand and commodity grafted on to her. A cyborg for this 21st century conversation. A cyborg for Ed Reform times.
I secretly hope, of course, that she is the Master’s Tool who can dismantle the Master’s house. I secretly hope that we, in our digital identities, are her.
Sun 6 May 2012
Welcome to the home stretch of #change11, everybody.
This week we’ll be looking at digital identities and subjectivities, or – basically – who we are in social media spaces.
I’m hoping this week will be, above all, a conversation: digital identity is always a lived experience as well as conceptual territory, so everyone has a contribution to offer based on their own practices and experiences..
Part of making those contributions a conversation is connecting: I’m not sure where conversations will emerge, but as they do, I’d love to be in them. If you’re new or coming out of hibernation, the #change11 FB group has been a rich space for discussion lately, so I recommend checking it out, and lively debate is very very welcome in the comments here. ;)
If you’d like to respond to any of the conversation on a platform of your own, please link back here so I can find you and join in. :)
The live chat session for this week will be here Wednesday, May 9th, at 11am EDT. I’ll have a few live slides that I’m hoping you can help me by adding your two cents to. I want to know what your practices are, and how you navigate identity in social media spaces.
Digital Identities as Affordances of Social Media: Who are We in a Networked Public?
This week’s discussion bridges from and builds on last week’s topic, facilitated by George Veletsianos. Like George’s work, mine focuses on practices and participation and how these function. George, however, looks specifically at scholars: my interest is in the broader concept of identity and how we are shaped by our digital practices.
George’s work is premised in looking at what Selwyn & Grant call the “state of the actual;” my work straddles both actuality and potentiality. I am interested in what we do that makes us who we are in social media spaces, thus my concept of digital identity is practice-based. At the same time, I see identity as a lens through which we can examine the potentialities specific to social networks. I use the concept of identity to explore what it is that social software makes possible in practice.
The Wikipedia definition of “digital identity” frames it, more or less, as the set of data constituted by a person’s interactions online, and that specific user’s psychological relationship to his or her data trail.
For the purposes of our discussion this week, I’d like to expand the definition beyond the traces and trails we leave behind for Google to find, and frame digital identities as the selves brought into being by the affordances – the specific structures and norms – of social media and what danah boyd calls “networked publics.”
Here’s a short(ish) introductory video to some of the basic premises of this week’s discussion.
Bonnie Stewart – Digital Identities Intro
Six Key Selves of Networked Publics
If you’d like to delve a little deeper than just the video, below are six key digital “selves” that I’d like to discuss and explore this coming week. They’re by no means an exhaustive list, so input and additions are very welcome, but they introduce some of the ways in social media norms and affordances impact identity practices. Links offer a bit of further reading – formal papers, blog posts, videos, all sorts of resources – in each of these directions. Following those trails is, of course, optional.
In the livechat on Wednesday, these six aspects of digital identity – and the implications they hold for higher education – will be the focus of our discussion.
1. The Performative, Public Self
The networked self is neither a discrete, unique snowflake that can be examined entirely unto itself, outside relationality, nor a generic group member. The networked self is linked in multiple, complex, individual node-to-node relationships with others as part of an ever-shifting public. It is also performative, constituting itself within that public through its practices and gestures.
Within network publics the performative self experiences both the flattening of hierarchies across space and status (I talked to theorist Henry Giroux on Twitter the other day! And he followed me back! Yay! Access!) and the network theory principle that big nodes are more likely to attract attention and links (Giroux didn’t actually talk back to me. Boo. Sniff. But his semi-celebrity status in the world of academia means he’s always going to have a wider pool of people aware of him and clamouring for his attention).
The performative self in networked publics tends to be conscious of his or her multiplicity and performative nature: Rob Horning’s post on the data self does a very entertaining job of encapsulating much of how this self differs from previous cultural conceptions of identity and subjectivity.
2. The Quantified – or Articulated – Self
In social networks, our network contacts are visible and articulated, and our actions and contributions are quantified. This makes the act of choosing to follow or “friend” another person always already a public, performative statement (see above) and likewise a notch in the belt of one’s personal metrics. Status and scale in social networks are frequently treated as overtly measurable attributes, tracked in clicks and follows and @s and likes by tools like Klout: I have hesitancies about the applications and limitations of algorithms as stand-ins for identity, especially when we begin to think about the self in learning contexts.
3. The Participatory Self
The participatory, networked self is not only mobile and connected, never fully disengaged from the communications of the network, but is able to engage and contribute at a click to the self-presentation of others. This is based in part on the produsage or prosumer nature of networked publics, merging production and consumption: within my networks I am both a creator of my own content but also a consumer of that which my peers produce and share. My relationships are groomed by the constant iterative work of participation, and my comfort with working in isolation towards a final product – as was the paper model of creative work – recedes in the rear-view mirror.
4. The Asynchronous Self
Simply put: I hate when my phone rings. And I’m not alone. Digital sociality practices and networked publics moved increasingly towards asynchronous mediated communications, rather than the interruptive, immediate demands of telephones. Last night, as I tried to record the video for this post, my stepmother called. Twice. I rest my case? ;)
5. The PolySocial – or Augmented Reality – Self
Contrary to much of the digital identity scholarship of the 1990s, which tended to emphasize the fluidity of identity uncoupled from the gendered and signified body – the “on the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog” theme – the concept of networked publics has given rise to a far more enmeshed notion of reality. Drawing from this, my work frames digital identities not as virtual selves, but as particular subjects brought into being by our relational, mobile interactions in the world of bits and extending into the world of atoms. My networks and relationships – and therefore my identities – exist within the enmeshed and multi-faceted realities of contemporary human interaction.
On the cyborgology blog, Nathan Jurgenson, PJ Rey et al have done an exceptional job of examining and detailing the complexities of what they call Augmented Reality, or the enmeshed and mutually influential confluence of atoms and bits. Sally Applin and Michael Fischer offer the somewhat differently framed concept of PolySocial Reality to explore the interoperability of contemporary contexts.
And from the perspective of someone who once pretended to be a dog, Alan Levine (@cogdog) has a great video keynote narrating his experiences as a self in the enmeshed world of atoms and bits.
6. The Neo-Liberal, Branded Self
Our social networking platforms are increasingly neo-liberal “Me, Inc” spaces where we are exhorted to monetize and to “find our niche.” I’ve argued that in these spaces, no matter how we choose to perform our identity, we end up branding ourselves.
So. Six starting places for conversation. Recognize any of these? Do any resonate with your own practices?
And have any of them been part of your #change11 experience? I’m hoping that the discussions this week will serve as a bit of a retrospective for the course, from a polysocial identity point of view: how has participation (even peripheral participation) in a distributed, networked learning experience like this shaped your sense of self?