My interest in online identity began in relation to gender and the ability to portray yourself textually as male or female. Second Life took this one step further with choices over visual appearance. For me, early assumptions were that online identity was something you played with; an opportunity for deliberate experimentation. Authenticity was rare. Contrast this with the situation today where across the sector those working in higher education use their online identity to network, share ideas and generally extend the working day. The assumption is now that this constitutes a reasonably accurate reflection of your working persona.
This is not without implications for the digital divide; the one that is less about technology and more about the ways in which it is used. If you maintain a digital absence between Friday 4.30pm and Monday 8.30am and (for whatever reason) don’t tweet, blog or have Facebook ‘friends’, then the chances are you will not have an interest in the construction and maintenance of an online identity, never mind any debate over the discursive nature of this identity.
The question here is at which point does the choice not to participate in a virtual extension of yourself begin to impact on your ‘real’ working world. Are we reaching a point where having an online presence is becoming seriously more advantageous than not – where online networking has greater benefits in terms of not just wider debate but off-line issues such as career progression? What does it say about us if we Google ourselves and find there’s nothing there? How do we feel when we work with colleagues who don’t ‘do all this online stuff’ – are we tolerant of their choice or increasingly frustrated?
I’ve visited this before and no doubt will do again. Earlier this year HEFCE released its revised elearning strategy; this clearly shows how education technology is becoming integral to the higher education experience not just for students but for those working across the sector. Yet levels of engagement remain diverse. I wonder if we are creating a new digital taxonomy and if so what would it look like? A topic for my next blog I think….