― Gabriel García Márquez, Gabriel García Márquez: a Life
This post will consider the complex and changing nature of identity, perception and consequences of naive digitial citizenship.
What does that mean? Well it seems to me that we have perhaps three groups of people and ideas among us. Let’s start with the easy one first;
The ‘I’ve not got time for Twitter and Facebook, I’m too busy doing real work and besides the internet is full of liars, thieves and weirdos.’ There is also a parallel set who blaze around the internet buying and selling on ebay, downloading ringtones and games in blissful ignorance of esecurity and esafety, and post on socialmedia without a thought for the consequences for their personal safety, or the well being of others.
The second, middle group is harder to define and I’d suggest that it is more of a spectrum on which we travel, rather than somewhere we are firmly placed. This group includes confident users and community members. They are masters at the activities with which they feel comfortable. They share updates and media with friends and family on Facebook, shop with confidence online, are resourceful in seeking and identifying information and resources, to make their lives, work, better/easier/more effective. This group may still see their online activity as discreet from their ‘real’ analogue lives and consequently there are times when this misplaced confidence in their online lives can lead to physical challenges and crisis that are not easily rectified.
Then there is the other group. Not the Top Group. Not the Best group. This isn’t a competition. They are the ones who make an effort to, with varying degrees of success, manage and nurture their public digital persona. These are the people who have become responsible, and accepted, citizens of the digital and analogue worlds. Their worlds seamlessly blend and construct a more honest representation of who they are. They interact face to face, with Facetime/Skype, by text, email, messaging, micromedia and understand the need to use appropriate channels that are fit for purpose. This comfortable integration and openness allows them the confidence to be self assured in their digital skin.
We must aspire to a level of understanding where we can manage our identity without fear of reprimand or embarrassment.
Dean Shareski’s recent blog post; ‘The Mixed Messages of Digital Citizenship’ considers the misrepresentation of digital identity when we only post the ‘good’ things;
“Reading a great book”
“My wonderful husband just made me the most delicious meal”
“Enjoying a glass of wine while viewing the beautiful sunset”
It can be argued that we should share our failures and our bad days to create a more honest representation of ourselves. While no one would advocate over sharing our weaknesses and insecurities, we do need to help all digital citizens to celebrate their successes and share and learn from life’s challenges too.
For years my mantra in my sessions and guidance has been; ‘Post like your enemies are watching.’ We all have enemies. People, who in simple terms would rather we weren’t happy, confident, successful – as if in some way we are holding them back. This remains true and in this post I will suggest we each have a responsibility to move beyond trusting privacy settings, to establish a new openness and tackle head on the nonsense of the likes of the Daily Mail. Those who resist change, who destroy careers and personal lives with their glib lack of tolerance and understanding.
If ‘Post like your enemies are watching’ is our first rule of digital conduct I would add ‘ and manage your online identity. If you don’t then someone else will.’
I first heard this in a keynote by the inspirational @josiefraser and I confess, at that time, to not fully understanding its meaning.
At first I was in denial. Who is this other person who would represent me online? Who is my enemy who could do such a thing. To sink so low?
I later came to understand that there is real truth and validity in the statement. It is the ‘other people’ collective, well meaning friends, family and colleagues, who post images of us and tag us in locations and at events. They regularly make reference to us and that creates a picture and profile of us which, if we are silent, can lead to a partial and perhaps negative representation of our worth.
In simple terms if you post nothing anywhere then your identity will simply be references by others about the places you’ve been and the things you’ve said and done.
‘This is the worst conference ever (with Simon Finch)’.
If I make no contribution, then it appears we are like minded and negative individuals.
It’s 15 years since I was a full time teacher. In my soul I still am a teacher. I constantly see the world around me in terms of ‘how could that enhance and extend teaching and learning?’ I’m always looking for useful stuff.
Although I produce and identify, on a daily basis, resources for schools, the majority of my face to face work is speaking to/with adults who work with young people across the education, charities and public sectors. These people find me by digital word of mouth; retweets, links, messages, recommendations and posts online.
More people know of my work online across the UK and beyond than in many schools within my immediate locality – such is the power and reach of socialmedia.
They find simfin, not Simon Finch. It is @simfin who posts useful resources on socialmedia. It is simfin who is invited to keynote and speak at prestigious learning events. It is simfin who is always there, ready to help and it was simfin who was nominated for and presented with a national award for serving the education community.
It has taken years of careful and considered online contributions to build the peculiar brand simfin. It’s not of global significance – a small fish in a very big pond. A social network of thousands, not tens of thousands, and the numbers seem to have settled to a reasonable number of people and organisations who I think find me a little useful – some of the time.
Every day is the same, whether I’m at work, evenings, weekends or in distant lands on holiday, I use Twitter from breakfast to bedtime. I post useful resources, links and ideas to delicious, facebook and digitallyconfident.org. Every post is considered for its impact and this professionalism acts as a clear balance to the personal content I create and share. Instagram and linkedin also serve as useful repositories to add detail to my digital identity.
It is important to state that this continued activity is less about self promotion than self preservation. By making public all aspects of my work this acts as context for the more social and personal posts I may share.
I post pictures and links about:
How our enemies and Daily Mail may view this: ‘All Grown Up’
People & Friends
How our enemies and Daily Mail may view this: ‘Obese Britain – One Man’s Diet of Death.’
The avatar, of arms out in a part dance, part crucified expression has become an important part of simfin
There’s an online shop
The avatar is a point of reference in my work
I post pictures of the avatar in different shirts. It’s makes for an interesting photo project.. It’s not that crazy, other educators, and greater minds than mine, post pictures of everything from trains to tents and clouds to cats. If you take enough pictures of the same subject then eventually the collective set gains an arty significance greater than the individual image.
Here an outstanding headteacher frequently posts images of her extensive collection of shoes:
Being creative and thinking differently is important to me.
Here’s a stop motion of simfin wearing a great many shirts – then taking them off..
Here’s the simfin avatar catching some rays in Portugal
How our enemies and Daily Mail may view this: ‘Topless Shame Of Teacher In Hideaway Villa’
Here’s David Cameron catching some rays in Cornwall. It’s quite normal to take your shirt off on your jollies. If ‘post like your enemies are watching’ is to be taken to its natural conclusion then anyone concerned about public perception would resort to victorian beachwear and remain covered up at all times.
And here’s simfin – The Biker
How our enemies and Daily Mail may view this: ‘ Keep This Hells Angel Away From Our Children’
Our online contributions are our digital cv/resume. Now it depends where you are in the circle of life what this means to you. In my sessions with young people and adults I ask them the difference between them and myself. The answer is; (with a gasp and a giggle from the group) ‘I am closer to death’.
Sounds harsh but it’s true and my online activity reflects this. My children are adults now and will survive without me. I have no career map which requires me to demonstrate ‘best’ behaviour, make the right noises or be seen in the right places at the right time. I don’t want to be a headteacher. I don’t want to be director of children’s services. I do, however want to make a difference and be a person that others will believe tried hard to support them – and to exceed their expectations.
At all of my training sessions, connectivity permitting, I show my social media accounts live to delegates and invite them to reflect on how their online activity can positively or negatively impact on their reputation and their colleagues.
Linkedin recommendations provide formal and considered observations;
‘He is perceptive, forthright and honest in his opinions- qualities which I value. Simon gets work done on time and to a high standard. His presentations are informative and enjoyable; a great combination for staff development.’ Headteacher.
‘I’ve found him to be knowledgeable and passionate about keeping both children and adults safer online which comes across in a positive, humorous and engaging way. Simon’s enthusiasm for e-Safety enables him to develop an excellent rapport with a variety of audiences both online and in person, which facilitates them to develop their own attitudes and thoughts about e-Safety.’ Esafety Officer
‘He has established a formidable reputation for providing high quality advice and guidance helping other to use technology safely and effectively in education. He is a natural and gifted communicator which is hugely refreshing in an area that often excludes the less technologically confident’ Pupil Performance Unit DFE
and feedback from my sessions is informal yet of equal value;
‘..Excellent with all in attendance buzzing and they were significantly informed about the issues without being unduly alarmed. LA Advisor
All were keen to try to get you into school to work with the youngsters. You made a real impact and as ever very impressive and passionate.’ LA Advisor
‘“Thankyou again for you brilliant presentation – I have already recieved some excellent feedback from staff” Special school
Until we accept privacy, as we understood it, is gone forever, we will be in a continual state of firefighting. We must be proactive and model responsible real lives online, and face to face. Until we can do this we cannot expect our young people to know how to be safe, considerate, confident digital citizens. Privacy settings lead to misplaced complacency. We must look for opportunities at all times to share and celebrate positive aspects of our lives, and to understand that our every click, upload and interaction forms an important and permanent stamp on our record of achievement and resume.
It is by using social media to showcase our values, our passions and our work that we can create opportunities for ourselves and help to ensure that ‘Teacher sacked for Twitter post‘ becomes a thing of the past and we can become the positive digital role models our young people need.