Digital Citizenship in the Dark

Summer has finally arrived here in the north, which means it must be time for me to have to stay inside too much, tapping away at the keyboard, teaching another edition of ED 654 – Digital Citizenship, etc. (AKA Nousion)

The first few weeks of the course are pretty sedate, with Nousionauts selecting and setting up their domains, installing WordPress and learning to post, outfitting their Twitter accounts, etc. But that just gives me even more time to dwell on the heart of darkness in the course: the whole troublesome concept of the retronym “digital citizenship.” What is it? Does it even exist? Does the prefix “digital” do anything useful?

Like “digital pedagogy,” I think digital citizenship, if it has any meaningful existence, is a function of the differential space between what can be done—and how we can live and be—in and amongst the digital that isn’t possible outside or deprived of it. Also like digital pedagogy, this seems more like a nice philosophical idea to muse about than one with a practical existence. Where such differentiation is being articulated, it seems firmly rooted at the safety and procedures stage of what Katia Hildebrandt and Alec Couros called Digital Citizenship 1.0.

Don’t get me wrong: citizenship is very clearly a thing beyond rules and policies. Joel Westheimer’s framework, which is a course reading, articulates just one of many ways in which citizenship can be conceived as process, agency, identity, collaboration, etc. I’ve just not seen, or figured out, anything which convinces me that the “digital” prefix is particularly useful beyond the 1.0 level.

This seems illustrated by the common conception when teaching about digital citizenship (and I use it too) that there is a kind of series, increasing in sophistication and importance, from digital skills to digital literacy to digital citizenship (with many permutations that modify the prefix—digital or web or information, oh my). But this often strikes me as categorical confusion, particularly at this model’s third stage, and beyond (fluency, anyone?) because it feels true to my experience that the divide between literacy and fluency or skills/literacy and citizenship marks a deep difference in kind.

Perhaps digital citizenship is simply useful as a term to avoid overloading those other terms, which is part of my argument for the using the phrase information fluency. But in that case I continue to feel that the difference isn’t the digital part, but the citizenship part: the part of being a passive or active, a less or more informed, a more or less visible person-in-the-world, some of which is potentially enhanced by technology, but is also often wounded by it.

Lingthusiasm on “Untranslatables”

A solid episode of Lingthusiasm (one of my podcast staples; I support them) on the fascinating topic of so-called “unstranslatables.” Gretchen and Lauren hit all the important points, including the wrongness of the label “untranslatable,” some reasonable theories as to why so many are attracted to them and more. I might quibble a bit with reductive assertions like “cozy” and “hygge” being the same…because there are reasons we have synonyms—and limits inherent in thesauruses—and because…poetry.

House Training my Phone

In my continuing attempt1 to manage distraction and facilitate focus, flow and occasionally “deep work,” I’ve been working on taming my phone.

First, I cleared the Home screen. This is what mine looks like:

I’ve moved all apps to one of three locations:

  1. The three most used apps for getting through the day (in my case, Todoist for tasks/lists, Bear for notes and Google Calendar) in the dock,
  2. A “Daily” folder with other critical apps I use daily that don’t present too many opportunities for going down rabbit-holes2, also in the dock,
  3. And all other apps on the second page, a few that I access routinely outside of folders, the rest in a combination of alphabetical and topical folders.

I very rarely access the second page because the apps there are either rarely used or because I want the “friction” of getting to them3 to act as a trigger for intentionality: that little bit of extra effort prompts me to consider if I am doing something necessary or just procrastinating.

I’ve also disabled almost all notifications and badge numbers. The only ones I leave on are notifications from people—Messages and Snapchat (which I only use to chat with my daughter)—and the Habitica app, which remind me of repetitive things I need to do every day.

This was an organizational system I’d been moving toward for a while, but I pulled the trigger when I discovered the “3D Touch” function on folders, which handily shows a synopsis of Badge notifications by app so I can tell if I have something important to respond to without burrowing:

That’s it.


  1. See my Facebook Reduction Plan. TL;DR: use lists, pages, the Messenger app/site and timed (or otherwise constrained) sessions.  

  2. Messages works here for me because I don’t text much and have chosen it as my one always–available stream for emergency communication at work (I only check in to email and Slack a few times each day). Other apps in this folder include Overcast for podcast listening, Habitica for positive habit forming, Headspace for daily meditation, 1Password for password management, Day One for (mostly photo) journaling, Notes for capturing things quickly with Siri, Airtable for recording my coffee brewing (yes, I geek out that way) and the Camera because I can never remember to access it by swiping up. 

  3. For this reason, the new iOS “feature” forcing me to type the whole name of an app when searching for it is actually a feature for me 

B.E.L.L.A.

From Gil Fronsdal, BELLA, an approach for being mindful of the Five Hindrances:

B.E.L.L.A. = Be, Examine, Lessen, Let Go, Appreciate

  • Be: Let it be. Don’t act; don’t react; stay present.
  • Examine: Examine the components; uncover.
  • Lessen: Relax the body; focus on antidote, such as cultivating kindness. At worst, remove yourself.
  • Let Go: Once understood, let go.
  • Appreciate: When the hindrance is past, appreciate its absence; when no longer caught up, appreciate not being caught.