Considering my digital footprint, and my authentic self

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Many, many footprints

I’ve just finished week two of three of the Digital Footprint MOOC run by the University of Edinburgh. It’s my first MOOC, so very interesting from that point of view, and I am learning a lot about my own digital tracks and traces.

The second week’s assignment involved a short reflection, and this has spilled over from the MOOC into here. We were asked to consider how we manage our online tracks and traces, how that might change in future, and the motivations behind that.

Authentic self

This concept is something I’m really interested in. Having just moved to a new city and started a new job, right now I’ve very aware of my ‘Self’. I’m meeting a lot of new people, and naturally I want to make a good impression. I’m aware of how I’m presenting myself.

One of my favourite social theorists (yes, I’m a sociology dork) is Erving Goffman. He introduced dramaturgical analysis, or the idea that we enact different ‘selves’ in everyday life, depending on whether we are on-stage or off-stage. And this extends to our lives online. Goffman actually got a name-check in Week One of the MOOC, in a discussion about presenting an authentic self online.

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Off-stage or on-stage?

I was pleased to hear the emphasis on an authentic self online. On Twitter, I follow a lot of librarians and information professionals, so the account is as my librarian self, but most of those librarians I follow will post enjoyable nonsense. In this way, it has a mixed professional-personal role. My authentic self is a mixture of both of those, so my Twitter account is too. For example, I may live-tweet from a conference, but I also posted a lot of photos from my travels last year.

Some people prefer to manage their Digital Footprint by keeping their spheres separate, and some people reach multiple audience types in one place. I think I do a bit of both. The important thing, in my opinion, is not to refrain from being your authentic self. Be sensible in what your digital footprint says about you, but you don’t have to try to be someone you’re not. Yes, think about who your audience is and what’s appropriate, but more importantly, be you.

The on-stage and off-stage dichotomy is blurred in the online world. That might make it more difficult to manage. It also has implications for introverted personalities, if you are ever more on-stage. It was an unexpected concept in the first week of this MOOC, and one I’ve been mulling over the last two weeks. I look forward to the third and final week of Digital Footprint.