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.

Ultimate Productivity Theorem and Corollary

The simplest and most useful rule for productivity1, where “something” can be an action of any kind:

1. Ask yourself what will happen if you ignore something. If nothing, or nothing important, or no one cares, then do so.

And the corollary:

1a. Ask yourself what will happen if you stop doing something. If nothing, or nothing important, or no one cares, then do so.

It’s astounding how many things fall into one of these categories.

  1. Note: I’m defining “productivity” here as “helping me get things done that make me happy(ish).” 

Depressed, Analytical Valley Girl


From Audrey Watters on Twitter a few days ago:

Today a friend sent me a link to James Pennebaker’s Analyze Words, a site that performs textual analysis on Twitter feeds. When I tried it, I realized that this must be the system that Michael Petrilli had used in his “analysis” (it says so in the article, but I didn’t remember the name of the software) because of the strange “Spacy/Valley girl” category. Here are my results (TL;DR I’m a depressed, analytical, personable valley girl):


Automated textual analysis is an interesting, but limited technology. I’m all for using it as one tool among many to spark thinking. But what’s with the sexist, dismissive “Spacy/Valley girl” category from someone supposedly interested in words and language? Presumably it’s a category intended to convey informality, use of words such as “like” and perhaps present tense? Pennebaker’s book on which this is based (The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us) doesn’t provide any specifics…the only mentions of the phrase “valley girl” come in the following quotes, which are predictable in their banality and lack of useful information. First, a comparison of two categories:

Pompous instructions: Although your professors gave this topic rather minimal attention, cognitive dissonance is a common psychological phenomenon with which the vast majority of uninformed laymen will be familiar … generating an example should be simple enough once one has become reasonably familiar with this concept.

Valley girl instructions: OK, we might not have talked about cognitive dissonance much. Which I think is totally crazy cause it’s like, everybody should be able to see that cognitive dissonance is majorly relevant. Like, it’s seriously happening ALL the time, you know??… So OK, it’s your turn. I mean, like really try to think of an example of cognitive dissonance and tell me everything about it.

And then the dismissal (I wonder which category this falls into? Arrogant, Sexist, Old White Man?):

In fact, if I, like, started—you know—writing in a Valley girl style for like gobs of paragraphs, and, you know, if, uhhh, your phone rang and like you totally answered it? You would like majorly start talking like this.

I’ll stop now to preserve our respective senses of dignity.

Not exactly deep thinking is it? I guess it sells better to use the Buzzfeed quiz model than to provide and support textual analysis as a point of inquiry…

Note To/About Self: Rhizo14/15

I finally got around to reading “Rhizo14: A Rhizomatic Learning cMOOC in Sunlight and in Shade” and a quote from one of the #rhizo14 participants the authors surveyed caught my eye. He or she described the #rhizo14 experience as being composed of “disjointed networks of pre-established subgroups.”

To some extent, that was how I experienced #rhizo15. Having been uninvolved or involved only at the very periphery of the previous year’s #rhizo14 experience and various other MOOC and MOOC-like experiences that the most active participants appear to have been part of together, I felt some sense of the outsider looking in. I was surprised at how solid the group formations already were (or seemed) before the course even started.

This isn’t a criticism: that my participation quickly dwindled was fundamentally a matter of the choices I made in how to engage (or not). But the comment made me think about what I was and wasn’t able to take away from the experience that might be applicable to my own practice:

  1. Some (a very small number) of the tweets and comments bordered on hero-worship. That’s uninteresting except that it points to how much the success of #rhizo15 depended on Dave’s position and personality…and I suspect the combination of these tendencies and so many who already had shared experiences explains the nearly complete absence of anyone challenging any aspects of the nature of the #rhizo15 experience itself.

  2. We who don’t have an avid following aren’t going to have much success throwing up a video every week and drawing a crowd of many hundreds or thousands, no matter how provocative or insightful the idea…and given the dynamics of communities and the various roles needed for them to be healthy, this is a situation where size does matter. I like the “big idea” approach, though, foregrounding the big questions that too often lie hidden beneath the surface of the mundane and organizing the experience around them.

  3. Something about the radically de-centered nature of the course appeals deeply to me, though I can barely dip into those waters when teaching formal classes. So a challenge for me is how to facilitate sustained engagement, self-organizing activities and group exploration and cohesion within the bounds of academic terms, defined outcomes and required grades.

  4. I’m intrigued by some of the artistry that emerged. I’m doubly intrigued by the sparks when the artistic expression meets the formalized expression. There’s more than a little of the Two Cultures problem involved here, the divides between formal and informal, art and craft, research and…well, whatever the “other” is.