Digital Identity VS Real Life Identity
Posted October 22, 2011on:
A Friday night gab session with a friend turned into fodder for a new blog post. Most productive phone call ever! It seems that no matter what the topic is and who I am talking to, somehow conversation always ends up being about Facebook. Tonight, we were discussing the act of “creeping” – our friends who lay low, never post anything, but are very vigilant as to what everyone around them is doing on Facebook. We were discussing how some of our mutual friends are always on Facebook, yet never make their presence known until every once in a while, they will say something like, “Yeah, I saw that you posted about that on Facebook.” When that happens, we both said we’re caught off guard because we forget these people are even viewing what we are posting, and we wondered why they choose to view, but not share or participate. Personally, I said that I simply have more fun on Facebook when I comment, engage in discussion, and post pictures. My friend, on the other hand, said that she viewed the “creepers” as judgemental, silently forming opinions about what she posted. Having been thinking about online identity since our Tuesday night class, I asked her if she thinks that her digital identity is similar to her real life identity. She said that she was definitely more herself in real life and that she felt that online, she had to be guarded and felt that she could only share part of who she is. I feel, however, that she is a very guarded person in real life as well, and that this spills over into her online persona even more.
I have been thinking quite a lot about how I portray my identity online, and I came to the realization that I am very open and very much myself through my digital identity. Unlike my friend, I do not feel the need to be guarded, nor do I feel like others are judging what I say and do. I post my opinions and feelings on Facebook, Twitter, and in my blogs, I share a plethora of pictures and articles, and I comment often on other peoples’ postings. Do I feel the need to filter myself online? No, for I have come to the realization that I do not filter what I share, but I filter who I share it with. Moreover, I realized that in many aspects, I feel that I can be MORE of myself online than in real life BECAUSE of my control over who gets to know the real me.
Since kindergarten, I have witnessed what it was like to be somewhat guarded. I attended the same elementary school where my mom taught, so we lived in the same community where she worked. It was an unwritten rule that my brother and I should behave our best, even outside of school, because everyone in the community would know if we were in trouble, and it would reflect poorly on my mom as a teacher at the school. Not to worry – we did not grow up in some rigid, uber-strict household, and my elementary school days were extremely positive. I was even fortunate enough to have been in my mom’s class, and it was one of my favourite years ever. Throughout school, however, I was aware that if I misbehaved, my teachers would tell my mom, and as I grew older, I realized that it would be embarrassing for her. It was interesting for me to find out this weekend that a colleague of mine attended the school where her dad was principal and her mom was a teacher, and she said she felt the exact same way while growing up.
Coincidentally, I am now teaching at the same elementary school that I attended and that my mom taught at for 23 years. I feel the exact same need to be guarded as I’m sure my mom once felt, and I do not even have the addition of my own children attending the school. I feel that as a teacher, I must constantly be a “good role model,” even when outside of the school. Many of the parents at my school are highly involved in the lives of their children to the point of being dubbed “helicopter parents”, as they are constantly “hovering” around the teachers and their children. Some are excellent parents, while others literally will watch in your windows while you teach. Our school is actually developing a reputation of being one where the parents are overly difficult to deal with, and I have found this to be true on numerous occasions. *Warning – this post is about to enter ‘teacher-rant’ territory.* Quite honestly, some of the parents at my school are far too involved in the business of the teachers’ personal lives. Here are a few examples in which I wish I had a “block this user” option in real life for dealing with parents:
Exhibit A: In past years, many of the parents on the school council spent much of the meeting talking about the teachers. We have new parents on the council this year, and I am hoping that they are more concerned about the school than they are about gossiping. At one meeting that a colleague of mine attended, she informed me that the parents were discussing which teachers were taking their Masters or second degrees. They were speaking negatively about this and how this would mean that we would have less time to spend working on our jobs. Little do they know how much we are using FROM our classes to benefit our teaching. One parent once complained to the principal that our VICE PRINCIPAL, who was taking her Masters and doing training to be a teacher leader, was jeopardizing the students’ learning because she was spending six half days receiving leadership training. Ridiculous.
Exhibit B: After I had gotten engaged, a parent of a child whom I had never even taught said to me, “Congratulations! We heard you just got engaged!” I thanked her, to which she said, “So your fiancé is from Seattle? Is he moving here?” I replied that no, he was not from Seattle, nor had he ever lived there. She said, “Oh, really? That’s what everyone is saying. Has he been there recently?” Everyone is saying that? Why? How did they even come up with that information? Why do they even care?
Exhibit C: After my wedding, I took my pictures to Walmart to get them developed, not knowing that a parent (again, of a student whom I had never taught) was working in the photo developing centre. When I came to pick up my photos, she had actually looked through all of my photos and commented to me about which teachers were at the wedding, how they were partying, and other comments that angered me simply due to the fact that she had looked through my photos without my permission. Had this been Facebook, I could have had control over who had seen these photos, and it would not have been a parent. I do not even know why I was so mad. There was nothing that I needed to hide, as I was very proud of these pictures and was showing them to everyone. However, I could show them to WHOM I wanted, and I would not have chosen a parent who has no business going through my photos.
Exhibit D: My coworker was driving in the same area where we teach, and she had flowery decals on her car, making her car easy to identify as hers. That day, she turned left on a yellow light to avoid being stuck in the intersection. The next day, her middle years student said to the class, “My mom said that she saw you driving yesterday. You turned left on a yellow light and that’s really dangerous. My mom said that you could have hit someone or caused an accident.” She promptly took the decals off of her car so that it would look less conspicuous.
I feel that as a teacher, I must always be aware as to who is “watching” me. I love that online, I can filter to whom I present myself. I CAN post my wedding pictures and state my opinions without worrying that they will be taken the wrong way. I am fully comfortable on Facebook, my blog, and Twitter because I do not have to filter myself because I have chosen not to have parents, students, or anyone under the age of eighteen as my friends. Yes, I know that there are ways for others who are not my friends to view my content, but I do not post anything that I feel that I will regret. I find it interesting that when I first started using the internet and engaging in message boards and chat rooms, the big precaution was how easy it was for one to assume a false identity. Who would know if you were faking to be someone else? Nowadays, I rarely even think about that at all. I recall Danah Boyd discussing in her presentation that people use Facebook to connect with friends, not to meet new people. There is no need to pretend to be someone we are not when on Facebook – everyone knows everyone’s business already so it would be pretty difficult to pretend to be someone else!
My friend and I had such differing opinions about how we present our identity online. I am interested to know if your online identity and real life identity differ, or if you are relatively the same person in both aspects of your life.