Fluid Identity

Moral Moorings with a Social Media Substrate

Photo by Adrien Converse on Unsplash

Phew…it’s been a hell of a week. A tangled web of reflections, connections, disconnections, reconnections, and a ground-up mental remodeling within, around, and beyond the bounds of identity (the digital, fleshy, material, and ethereal kind).

I’m endlessly inspired and grateful to those dancing within my sphere of influence for their courage and determination to create meaningful spaces where my mind can truly wander (in the most generative and productive sense of the word). The recently realized Pedagome/DigPINS collaboration (and all those behind it — Sundi, William, Lainie, Susannah, Autumm, et. al.) has offered an identity-shaping spotlight among the shadows. It’s admittedly difficult, as others have mentioned, to feel as though I’ve allocated enough time/focus on the activities this week, but from my view, taking even a brief moment to contemplate your digital identity is time well spent.

So, to kick off this week of ideation and exploration, we collectively worked through some V&R Mapping, a simple means of visually describing the range (continuum) of ways in which we engage with the web. Here are a few samples which illustrate the wonderfully wide range of experience, both in design choice and modes of engagement, represented in this unquestionably talented (though perhaps over-tooled) community of designers, educators, perfectionists, and pedagogues.

And while I took a slightly different approach (hoping to push towards engagement and keep my toe dipped in the coding pool), it still represented a similar “inventory-of-tools” type of approach to the activity. In digesting these visuals, and reflecting on the associated conversations that unfolded in Slack, I started to wonder where the identity-defining novelty was to be found. Don’t get me wrong, I find immense value in networked reflection, but I’m not sure that V&R mapping uncovered anything new about my identity (or perceived identity as it were). In these maps being static, are they not inherently inaccurate, or at best misleading? My personal view has shifted towards viewing the hundreds (thousands?) of platforms and tools littering these continuums as more of a digital identity substrate. They are by no means insignificant, but they’re changing, fleeting, and largely out of our control. We are so much more than our digital tools.

I’m hoping others might find interest in searching for the identity-driven moral moorings that sit atop this tool-based social media substrate. It’s in this search I’ve chosen to focus much of my attention, and it’s this parent map, the one with hopeful durability, that I’m looking to create and refine every day. With that in mind, and having recently watched a talk by Andreas Antonopolis on the 5 Pillars of Open Blockchains (I recommend watching this for framing if you plan to keep reading), I wanted to further explore an analogy which many are aware has been pecking at my mental models with increased vigor. Perhaps these emergent, and ironically algorithmic, pillars (along with the tools) could provide more resonant and durable anchor points to which I might moor my digital identity. It’s a start anyway.

Open

While I’m certainly in favor of personal privacy, I generally want my digital identity to be as open as possible. I want it to be interconnected with others and the networks they inhabit. I want to remove barriers to understanding who I am and what I represent. This is only possible if we view our identities as permeable and openly accessible. Just as building physical walls at our borders becomes problematic, so too does building virtual ones around our digital identities.

Public

Similar to being open, I want my digital identity to be public. I find that the fewer secrets I keep about who I am, the more liberated and empowered I become. Keep in mind, this doesn’t apply to any specifics (e.g. my personal data and info), but to my general moral character and ways in which I present myself online to others. It’s a “wear your heart (or identity) on your sleeve” type of mentality.

Borderless

This becomes challenging, but I want my identity to be disconnected from any boundaries or borders. I want to curate an identity which is transnational, cross-cultural, and jurisdiction-agnostic. While physical identity forks inevitably surface when traveling abroad, I’m learning that our digital identities can be much more fluid and blind to borders. This is where anchoring to particular tools causes problems. If you are your Facebook profile, you don’t even exist to many others around the world.

Neutral

Given our selfish genes as humans, can our digital identities truly be neutral, and if so, is this something we should in fact strive for? I like the idea of removing hierarchies and power structures from our digital identities, but in many ways, the fact that I’m privileged enough to have a digital identity at all is already asymmetric and non-neutral. That being said, I do think we can aim towards crafting more sympathetic personal centers; ones which allow us to value the widest possible range of perspectives. We can both stand boldly behind contentious opinions and ground ourselves neutrally. These things are by no means mutually exclusive.

Censorship Resistant

I like my digital identity much like I like my speech, highly resistant to censorship. As I continue to fortify the digital bedrock of my being, I’m often reminded that the maintenance of our digital identity requires legitimate effort and labor. If you don’t meticulously curate your own identity (online or otherwise), someone/something else will surely do it for you (and with AI it may already be too late). It’s worth pushing back against the external (and often internal) forces that tend to bend our identities away from authenticity and what we truly are and intend.

As we look towards next week’s social festivities centered around Networks, I’m afraid the blockchain analogies may only become more obvious and numerous. This week has been an enjoyable and personally reflective ride and I‘m excited to continue building momentum. It’s the endless fluidity of my digital identity I’ve truly grown to appreciate, so if there’s one thing I can say with certainty it’s that I’ll know more about myself tomorrow then I did today.

Ok, I’m tired. Identity work is exhausting!

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