Digital Identity, Citizenship and Audience

I don’t have anything cogent to say about it but Bonnie Stewart’s recent thoughts on digital identity and citizenship (see also: the Facebook thread) resonate with me. Or at least strike the cracked bell in my head and heart that sounds so infrequently. To the extent that I understand Bonnie’s insight (and her response to my request for an “Explain it Like I am Five” version, “we don’t make a better society just by making ourselves better,” helps) I have to agree. In my own digital citizenship class I have often stressed that the “me” aspect of digital citizenship was only as healthy as the “we” (though I try not to be so twee in my phrasing). The self/I of identity is necessarily soft and shifting sand given how our identities—and here I reveal my 90s nature—are contingent, collaborative, always becoming creations.

Not unrelated, Alan Levine’s comment in which observes that “we seem to care more how we are seen than showing who we are. I see it in retired bloggers who bemoan a lack of ‘audience’. I see it in writing to be seen rather than writing for writing.” I’m probably being too sensitive all the way around, but since I am both a (mostly) retired blogger and feel like I recently, and inadvertently, insulted Alan on this very topic, I want to note that the phenomenon he is observing has many levels. If “audience” is a thing that can be passively measured with head-counts or hit-clicks, then “being seen” is the thing…and the audience is just a thing. But the “lack of audience” I bemoan is more verb than noun, it only exists through the conversation (and interrogation)…and that can only happen when there is an audience with which to converse. I’m sure my vision is blurred by hazy notions of the good old days, but the ubiquity and ease of what we already call “traditional” social network sites has greatly expanded—and deeply fractured—the audience. Which I “bemoan” not because of stats but because it has gutted the extent and level of conversations. And that happens not because such conversations can’t happen in these spaces but because the platforms aren’t oriented toward conversation or collaboration, but toward signalling and declamation. It’s possible to have significant, extended conversation in a loud bar full of people at every stage of inebriation and sobriety—and it’s possible to write fine poems from solitary confinement or create new melodies while shackled to a chain—but it’s hard to argue that such environments don’t make it harder and less likely. And I bemoan that.

Language & Linguistics Podcasts

For reference, a list of podcasts about language: linguistics, etymology, word nerd fun, etc. All are either active or have a significant archive to enjoy. Some are considerably more technical than others. So it goes. I welcome suggestions for more.

Video and other media series:

Stuff:

My Facebook Reduction Plan

It might seem strange that after surviving the (so far but barely) worst of the political season, it took a routine recurrence of the eternal Oxford Comma debate to force me to rethink my use of Facebook. But so it goes. After being tagged and trolled into another round of disputation in which the futility is rivaled in intensity only by my bewilderment that there is a debate at all1, I belatedly realized I need to become much more intentional in my use2 of Facebook. It was precisely because the comma debate was, as usual, so inordinately frustrating and draining—at least when engaging in conversation about politics it feels like there’s something actually important at play—that I knew I needed to re-consider my engagement.

Facebook faces what I believe to be an insoluble existential problem in being, as Mike Caulfield put it recently, an “identity platform that is being used as a news platform”3. But my immediate need isn’t about that, at least not directly. I don’t want to find a better way to get “news” from Facebook or expect Facebook to give me “better” news. I don’t need news from Facebook at all…I merely want to exert a little more control and make using Facebook a more positive experience while enjoying connections to friends, writers, fellow editors and other literary venues.

So, this is what I’ve done:

  • Created a few Friend Lists: one with the subset of people whose posts I want to see regularly, another with the subset of people whose posts I want to see regularly but who also tend to be excessively political or just too much, in some way, for me to read without preparing myself and a few others limited to magazines and literary venues, etc. The first list is my new starting point for Facebook.
  • Selected a very small group of friends to “See First” in my News Feed Preferences.
  • I still use Facebook messages to talk to some people, but I use the app (or the web app) so I don’t even see the News Feed or anything else when doing so.
  • Removed my “pinned” Facebook tab4 in my browsers.
  • Limited my Facebook time to promotion/sharing on my “official” pages and brief, timed sessions otherwise…and trying not to perform the latter in the morning.

The last two have been most important in combating my behavioral problems, using Facebook as a means of procrastination and feeding the gnawing black dog of depression. Plagued by insomnia, I found myself waking up (way too early) and pulling up Facebook with my morning coffee. Instead of reading or writing or attending to anything on my endless to-do list of vaguely creative tasks I ended up endlessly scrolling—and eventually rage-scrolling—in search of…I don’t know what. I don’t want to be a rat pushing a lever, much less one pushing a lever for a reward I can’t identify or define—and may never have existed in the first place. I had no answer to the questions I posed to myself as to what I might find that would make me want to stop scrolling or what positive result came from my routine feeding on Facebook.

The downside? Since I read a lot less and comment/like a lot less, I imagine I’m losing some of the network effects of interaction, resulting in lessened exposure not just of my own posts but those from concīs and Katexic Clippings too. I suppose I fall victim to the occasional niggling but of FOMO. I have one less thing to blame for laziness and sloth. And I do occasionally miss the loose-knit communities I’m part of there.5

None of this is rocket science; I’m mostly posting about it here as a signpost for my future self.


  1. My position: long live the Oxford Comma…where needed for clarity. As a friend noted, it might be too long for a bumpersticker. 
  2. Some friends of mine have dumped Facebook altogether. I still see too much value in the connections to friends, family, readers and writers—not to mention its ubiquity as an authentication hub—to go that far. And Facebook is a little insidious in requiring professional pages such as those for concīs and Katexic Clippings be connected to personal pages…and, I suspect, using one’s personal activity in Facebook as a magnifier for promotion, both literally and in visibility on other timelines. 
  3. The primary problem, the conflation of “news” and “News” is illustrated right there in Facebook’s titling of the “News Feed.” I suspect there’s no solution because it reflects that we as members of whatever groups we form, on social media or not, are de facto identity platforms through which we try to grok news. But that’s a mostly different thing. 
  4. I can’t believe I reached a point where I actually had pinned Facebook. 
  5. This is where I should invoke some analogy to illustrate that Faecbook isn’t evil, followed by mourning the loss of community that used to happen in blogs and other spaces, capped off with noting the catch-22 of reviving that community, all seasoned with a pinch of nostalgia about the loss of significant conversations like the ones we had in the good old days. 

About S-Town

I want to write something about S-Town, the 7-episode real-life story podcast, because it gave me all the feels and then some. But I don’t have time nor my thoughts in any semblance of order. I will say I think everyone should listen to it even if you don’t listen to podcasts (just think of this is a short, rich audio book) or like S-Town’s production roots (Serial and This American Life) because this show truly does its own thing. Starlee Kine’s (creator of the much-loved Mystery Show and one of the story editors) tiny handprints can happily be found all over this production. Were I in charge, I would have marketed the Starlee Kine connection more!

While listening I felt a bit let down by the last two episodes…but after letting my subconscious chew on it for a while I feel just the opposite, that those two episodes are crucial to the story—and the show—as a whole.

Absolutely required listening.