The articles for reflection this week happen to coincide with various ideas that were mentioned during panels that I attended at the MLA Conference (Modern Language Association) this past week in Chicago. At this conference, I attended Katina Rogers’ panel “Going Public: How and Why to Develop a Digital Scholarly Identity,” during which she stated that regardless of whether you want to be found online or not, these days it is incredibly difficult to hide from the Internet and the powers of Google. She continued by emphasizing that the traces of you that show up online are inevitably what others will use to form a first impression of you. Thus, she advocates for taking control of your image (instead of letting Google do it for you) and managing your own digital identity by (1) cultivating the content that you want associated with your name and (2) by “going public” with it.
Katina Rogers’ talk at the MLA also echoed many of the same points made by Laura Pasquini in her piece “Why Academics need a Digital Persona,” particularly her observations regarding the use of digital technology to participate in conversations with colleagues in your field, or as Pasquini states, in order to “connect, learn and engage in the profession.” In fact, I have a Twitter account for this very reason, and I have found it incredibly helpful for not only discovering information and resources pertinent to my field, but also for staying abreast of what the most prominent voices are saying about academic topics that interest me.
While I enjoyed reading Pasquini’s article, I agree with what Cristina wrote in her blog post, since I also do not view our online self as corresponding completely to our real, off-line self. Indeed, I believe that it is much more complicated than that. As Cristina pointed out, online identities can not only be censured and constructed to portray a certain image, but also, when we are speaking about one’s identity, there are inevitably many, many layers to who we are. My Twitter account, for instance, only provides one small window into who I am, or at least into how I present myself on that platform. And in regards to online platforms, my Twitter account and my Facebook account are not linked. I use them for completely different purposes that sometimes overlap, but for the most part are different windows into my life, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that they represent different fragments of my digital self. To add to this, there are elements of my off-line self that I share only with those that are dearest to me–those that have been with me for the long haul and are my most trusted confidants. But I’m going off on a tangent here… let me get back to the articles and the matter at hand…
I found Bonnie Stewart’s piece to be thought provoking as well, and her reflection on one’s audience and who you are writing for is particularly useful when thinking about “going public” with your digital persona. I would, however, like to add to her comments concerning academics that are cautious regarding what is posted from their research, specifically during conference presentations. I believe that such hesitations are generally linked to questions involving ethics, power structures, and vulnerability, especially with those who are newer to the profession. At the MLA, in fact, some scholars stressed discretion in tweeting about unpublished research presented by junior faculty members, contingent faculty/staff, and students. It wasn’t that those at the conference were resisting this digital platform, it was that they were conscious of the vulnerability of those with less power and/or experience, and who are at more risk of getting their ideas scooped. While at the conference, I attended a fascinating presentation on a digital humanities project during which the junior scholar that was presenting asked the audience to refrain from posting photos of her project online since it is not yet finished. I find this to be completely understandable and believe that we must use technology in an ethical way that is not only respectful of others and of their work, but that in addition, does not take advantage of the most vulnerable among us.