Week 6 – Identity

I used to think about digital identity every time power went out.

I know that doesn’t make much sense, but let me explain.

Many moons ago, I worked on a variety of SaskPower ad campaigns for an advertising firm. In one of these such campaigns, I featured in a video entitled “When The Lights Go Out”, in which I stumble my way through an explanation of how SaskPower works to get things up and running again when the power goes out.

Thus began a multiple year period where I was texted, called, and shouted at every time the power went out around the city. SaskPower would push this video onto their outage map webpage during large outages, and the influx of people checking the map led to a lot more of my friends and colleagues seeing this video than I had anticipated. Once, during a power outage at school, a student of mine looked up from the outage map they had pulled up on their phone in horror. “MR. NICOLSON?”

Of course, this is a relatively harmless and positive example of digital identity. However, it is a constant reminder of the pervasiveness of an online persona and my often complete lack of control over that identity.

I’m 27 years old. I’ve often felt that my micro generation of those 25-30 right now were born on the ‘cusp’ of a turn in digital identity. A transition zone between those who lived very little of their youth online and those who are currently living quite a lot of their youth on the internet. Yes, I have most certainly posted things I regret on the internet when I was much younger. However, many of my most vulnerable and sensitive growth years were not lived as strongly in the digital realm. This is not something I think we can say the same for our current wave of students.

In recent years, I’ve felt myself withdrawing more and more from my digital identity. Of course this has to do with multiple factors including getting older and being more aware of the responsibilities of this profession. However, I think that another big part of this is a gradual realization that (at least in my mind), the internet is not “real”. At least not in a way that makes sense to me.

This is a difficult conversation – especially because of discussions we’ve had in class around how things that happen online can be very real, especially for young people. And I don’t think I have my thoughts straight on all of this in a way that would make sense enough to defend my position. However, I don’t believe that this sense of digital “reality” is an inherent part of digital identity. I think what we are currently seeing more and more is a vision of the internet that is only superficially about things like “connection”. At a much deeper level, I feel a retreat into the online world only serves to foster a greater sense of isolation across class, racial, and sexual lines. The greatest dangers to the ruling class are community and organization. While these things can be fostered through the digital world, I feel that real-world, actionable connections are where true progress lies.

So when it comes to the transhumanist approach discussed in this week’s class, I tend to disagree that integrating ourselves even more fully with the “machine” is a solution or will somehow lead to enlightenment. Curious to hear more thoughts on this from you folks.

4 thoughts on “Week 6 – Identity

  1. I am not sure that digital identity and the “real world” are quite so separated. I often think of my post-secondary pursuit of my masters degree as an example. I have thus far only stepped foot in the university once (for a summer course) during the course of this degree, but there are very honest and authentic conversations occurring with my classmates despite this. Further to this my salary and status will be affected in the real world as a result of these online interactions. In a similar vein if I posted comments negative comments online they would follow me into my professional life where there could be negative consequences. Even amongst my students most disruptions originate online – someone posting something about someone else, or putting up videos they shouldn’t etc. I guess what I am saying is that in my classroom I am constantly dealing with the online world whether I like it or not. This is not to say that I always enjoy the situation, but I think that the line isn’t as defined as it once way and that we’re well on our way to an augmented reality, rather than clearly delineated ones.

  2. After supper this evening my family was watching the Incredibles and I was working on my blog post for this week when my wife looks over at me and says, “just like chat GPT.” I gave her a puzzled look and she says, “did you not hear what they just said in the movie?”
    She was referring to the part where Syndrome says to Mr. Incredible, “if everyone is Super then no one is!”
    Is that what the world is going to be like if we embrace to integration with technology?

  3. I like you point that this sense of digital “reality” is an inherent part of digital identity. What we have seen online is superficial. At deeper level, online world isolated people. Social media makes us feel lonelier. Showing other people’s idealized lives on social media can trigger envy and jealousy. The more time a person spends online, the less interaction they have in the real world. On the surface, social media seems to offer an opportunity to fill a social void. We are essentially social creatures, but modern lifestyles tend to divide us rather than bring us together.

  4. Thanks for sharing! I thought it was funny when your students noticed it was you in the video. The 90s version of that was seeing your teacher at THE GROCERY STORE and IN JEANS – totally out of context for our little brains. Although I am with you on just naturally withdrawing from time spent online for my own reasons, I will say that the responsibility of our profession is also a great reason to have an online presence in terms of using our ‘teacher voice’ and platform for good (social justice promotion, etc.). Don’t get me wrong, every person has personal responsibilities and levels of comfort that somewhat dictate the parameters in which they are willing to speak/share publicly about certain topics, and that is okay! 🙂

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