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.

3 comments on “Digital Identity, Citizenship and Audience

  1. As an old community college student and latecomer to the digital pub, I wondered what all the shouting is about. And while I prefer “civics” or “civic engagement” to “citizenship”, Bonnie Stewert’s epiphany helped me sort this out;
    “…how digital identity, as a practice, operates counter to the collaboration and cooperation that need to be part of digital citizenship.
    This is our contemporary contradiction: identity as a construct in contemporary social media spaces makes for pretty rotten social spaces.” http://theory.cribchronicles.com/2017/04/21/digital-identities-digital-citizenship-houston-we-have-a-problem/

    I think this holds true for everyday civics too, especially in the academy. I’ve learned that my experience as a craftsman in Silicon Valley is so alien to institutionalized knowledge workers that communication is very difficult. It seems “The Hewlett Packard Way” (less hierarchical, more entrepreneurial) has been forgotten and neoliberal financial command dominates; even in the academy. As a master glassblower (retired) I’m used to working with recent immigrants, Chemistry and Physics PhDs, recent hires (we don’t have formal apprenticeships in my trade) and laborers, often on the same project. Using one’s status to force an outcome is considered counterproductive to group cohesion and efficiency, or, if you prefer; profit.

    Didn’t the current identity friction start as bureaucratic struggles for resources in extremely hierarchical organizations, intensifying as each new group has been admitted to the academy? Marshaling resources required expanding one’s particular identity group, which in turn influenced the curriculum. Now identity has become so central to the academic mission that the “collaboration and cooperation” necessary for community is made difficult, if not impossible. Identity politics constrains my community colleges’ organizations from change, despite demands from Grand Juries, accreditors, local communities, parents and especially students. I know, I spent three years as a student representative trying to improve the financial aid system that was making my fellow community college students choose between quitting school and becoming homeless. After more than a decade of failures, financial aid in my four college district was finally computerized in 2015!
    https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2017/03/a-striking-number-of-college-students-are-hungry-and-homeless/519678/

    It seems to me that identity, being self defined (that’s another discussion) is personal, while civic engagement requires collaboration and cooperation. In our current political climate resources are being allocated only according to political power, so anything done to increase one’s power (identity grouping) is seen as necessary, despite the damage done to the common good. Perhaps Canada’s approach to “intercultural communication” can help lower the noise level in our academies and the digital pub. For how we can improve the pub’s platform I defer to Audrey Watters critique, even though I grind my teeth every time she conflates free enterprise, technical entrepreneurship, neoliberal financial capital and millions of (mostly immigrant and women) workers as “Silicon Valley.”

    ps What plugin do you use that allows a commenter to edit their comments for a limited time?

  2. Never insulted Chris, never.

    Your closing sentences poetically capture the bemoaning, and I could not agree more, I am going to lift that expression “the platforms aren’t oriented toward conversation or collaboration, but toward signalling and declamation”

    Thanks for this retirement posting 😉

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