Blurring the Boundaries 

In my previous blog post I talked about the keynote I delivered last week, where I suggested that high-level digital literacy skills can be honed when we mix things up and let our online identities bleed across different social media sites.

This may sound preposterous, but bear with me. Much has been said about the identities we should portray when using different social media sites for different purposes. It’s generally accepted that we upload photos of our children and share YouTube clips of rollerblading kittens on Facebook. We share artistically filtered photos of beautiful landscapes and hazelnut lattes to Instagram, and post our CVs while endorsing like-minded professionals for their business skills on LinkedIn. It makes it easier to underpin digital literacy skills if we keep these sites walled-in and separated. And it makes it easier to then tell our students that the content we share and the language we use has to be equally walled-in and distinctly different in order to not to ruin our reputation or cause offence.

I didn’t find my current job in the TES or my University’s website. I found out about it through a learning technologist who posted the advertisement on Facebook. This is the same site I use to share the reviews I write for Mass Movement magazine, curate and share information through my TEL-related page, have the occasional political rant, comment on the Addicted to Neighbours group and, on occasion, dare to share YouTube clips of rollerblading kittens. Meanwhile, on Pinterest I have boards that, thematically, differ wildly. There’s a board where I pin information relating to my role, two boards based on colours and another that is purely about superheroes. When introduce lecturers to the site as a possible tool for content curation, I show them all of these boards, and that’s because I see Pinterest as one of many social media sites that span all recognised online identities.
Wherever I am, and when posting anything, I ask myself who my audience are. While I may feel free to post just about anything on Facebook or Instagram, I also need to be aware that I am friends with my mum, so don’t want to offend her by using the ‘f’-word. Meanwhile, though I won’t swear on LinkedIn, I am happy to share a relevant newspaper article to my contacts with a disclaimer that it may contain swearing. I share my Mass Movement reviews on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. And talking of Twitter, I tweet and retweet about TEL, my love of pizza, Jeremy Corbyn, and arty tattoos. I still haven’t found out what Google+ is for.

I would suggest that this links to Dave White’s typology of Visitors and Residents; a theory that has helped in the killing of off Prensky’s rather binary theory of the digital native and immigrant. You can read Dave White’s paper here, but to my understanding, he posits that when we use sites regularly and ubiquitously we are residents. This residency comes about when we spend long periods of time interacting with specific sites. This prolonged exposure gives us an innate understanding of the sites’ purpose and user-base. In visitor mode we use certain sites infrequently, learning as we go, through trial, error and experimentation. We may return, but never stay long enough to become resident.

My suggestion is this: let’s stop using black and white rules for different sites and instead teach our students higher level, more nuanced digital literacy skills. That way, we can all be better residents online. 

2 thoughts on “Blurring the Boundaries 

  1. This Is me. Well, it isn’t, it is you, but I think you know what I mean.
    It never made any sense to increase the number of slivers of identity we share online. Yes, there are some cases where it is necessary to isolate some aspects of our lives, but unless it relates to actual legal or ethical requirements (e.g. we don’t share student information, if we work for the Samaritans we keep that to ourselves, etc) the concept of an authentic whole is much more useful, and is what a lot of employers expect to see. Yes, there are probably some employers who will get angsty about seeing pictures of a night out, or find offensive language to be a real problem for them. And some parents, come to that, but – as a number of people who took part in the research for This Is Me pointed out, if an employer is like that, they are the wrong sort of employer.
    Of course, social pressures can swing from one extreme to another, and we can get caught out by it suddenly being unacceptable to do X, Y or Z online. But in the meantime, do we want to limit our audience artificially, whilst simultaneously increasing our own mental workload by trying to maintain multiple identities? I used to – I used to have at least 4 or 5 on the go at any one time. Frankly, it was exhausting. The only benefit was that I got to see some of the more bizarre sides of human nature. And that probably isn’t to be recommended too widely.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yup. I’d (tentatively) add that we’ve pretty much moved into a post digital world, so it’s time we moved on from teaching the basics and on to the knottier stuff.

      And yes, having separate identities is exhausting. I juggled ‘work’ and ‘everyday’ avatars in Second Life for ages, then realised I was just being me no matter which avatar I was driving. So I only use ‘everyday’ now.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s