At this year’s ALT-C conference, I’ll be contributing to a symposium session along with Frances Bell, Josie Fraser and Richard Hall. In our session, The Paradox of Openness: The High Costs of Giving Online, we will pose a range of issues for debate, provoking participants to reconsider the costs of participation online, openness, and the sharing of resources. I’ll be focusing practice-based scenarios based on the publishing and sharing of digital artefacts that highlight areas of uncertainty, risk and the personal cost of openness. In this post, i’m exploring ideas around:
The Tyranny of Authenticity (identity)
There is undoubtedly much to be gained from taking control of, and actively developing our digital identity. I work with HE students who are developing their (professional) online presence in order to develop their PLNs, and bridge across the transition from formal education to their professional careers. In order to engage our learners I find myself evangelising and modelling online behaviours. This in itself affects my own online behaviour, in that I have a more relaxed Twitter ‘self’ during the summer months (more personal details, sharing of music/images, probably some swearing…) and this then deviates from my Twitter persona during the academic teaching year when I’m more guarded with regards my online communication and behaviour, focusing on sharing useful links and operating more as an ‘interestingness’ curator for my students. I have 2 Facebook accounts, multiple Flickr accounts, and separate Twitter accounts for teaching and personal/professional use. Essentially, my online self – despite having become more comfortable being ‘me’ online, and also being much more consolidated now that I exist professionally as ‘heloukee’ (see earlier post) – is still performed to some extent. Having spoken to many members of my PLN (personal learning network) about authenticity, trust and reputation I’m certainly not alone. Twitter is a good example of this, especially the considerable use of the back-channel (DMs), which we often use to say things we wouldn’t want to share publicly on the main stream.
When we encourage our students to manage their digital identity we often find ourselves adopting a rhetoric centred on openness and authenticity as devices for connecting, building social capital, nurturing networks/networking and PR of the self. Although there are tangible benefits in terms of developing their online IDs/networks, we are also operating within a pedagogical space which is largely driven by an employability agenda, the perceived need to develop an online presence in order to compete in a for employment opportunities, and the development of the PLN as an additional device for lifelong learning.
The transition from ‘me’ to ‘professional.me’ is not unproblematic, and there are ethical issues at play when we encourage our learners to cast-off prior, potentially problematic online IDs in order to nurture a persona that appeals to potential employers. In my case, the students who I work with are assessed on their content production and online IDs and while we have so far only had success stories, it has at times thrown up some interesting issues and highlighted tensions around what is/is not acceptable in a formal educational context vis-à-vis the individual’s right to present themselves in the manner they chose in an online space which is not owned, provided or controlled by the institution.
Being a believer in the web as a place for play and experimentation, I’m a huge fan of pseudonyms and think that we should have the right to adopt a moniker (or monikers) of our choosing. The ability to adopt pseudonyms and personas has been core to the experience of many of our students, who choose to present themselves using alternative IDs in the professional spaces while still retaining their (much ‘cooler’ in terms of their peers) identities within less formalised spaces. They are simultaneously performing to the industry/future employers while retaining/building social capital with their ‘peer audience’ in their recreational online spaces – which is something that many of us (try to) do, to varying degrees.
The arrival of Google+ has seen a groundswell of disapproval and outrage in relation to Google’s ‘real name’ policy; essentially they are demanding that G+ users present themselves using their real names and decided to enforce this policy by identifying and closing down accounts where the user has adopted a pseudonym. The public outcry has been substantial, as evidenced by the open listing of Google Profiles Pseudonymity Debate Coverage, danah boyd’s “Real Names” Policies Are an Abuse of Power, and most significantly in the EdTech context: Should Students Use Pseudonyms Online?
For all this talk of openness, when socio-technical systems demand that we use our ‘real’ names; when we require our learners to ‘give themselves’ through the development of online IDs upon which they will be assessed; when we ourselves ‘perform’ professionalised selves, which are essentially watered-down versions of our actual selves, is the tyranny of authenticity leading to an inauthentic public commons? What do we expect from our learners and communities?