Over the past year (or longer), I continue to think more about my digital self. This should be no surprise, as I am currently researching higher ed’s networked practice and I facilitate a workshop a couple times year about what it means to be an academic and professional online in postsecondary education. Typically, at the end of the calendar year, some people like to look back at 2017, “in review.” You might read/write end of year blog posts with a top ____ list of highlights/happenings. Or perhaps you’ve joined in on the Instagram “best9” of 2017 photo montage posting. This year, I am doing something different. Thanks to conversations I’ve had with Jeff, Paul, Katie, Chris, and others both offline and recorded [on the @BreakDrink podcast check out episodes 5, 7, 10 & 13] in 2017 — I will be setting aside some of my winter break to examine what it means to be present and connected online for ME. My personal review might be less merry or bright as I examine what I’ve shared or exposed to data/information in digital life. Festive? I know. 🙂
It has to be done. I need to really take a hard look at my digital self. This personal online audit will help to clean up and prevent potential hacks; however, this time I am including bigger questions beyond use/activity — as I plan review platforms terms of service, digital rights, data access, digital security, data extraction, and, ultimately, outlining if there is a purpose/need for “being” in any of these virtual locations. As net neutrality rules are killed and social (+ other) media continue to scale, I have a lot more questions I need to think about for my own work, learning, and life. The last few years there has been a reckoning for social media — more than anyone once thought over a decade ago. “Facebook is just a college thing” and “Twitter is just a fad,” were some of the things once said. Who thought these social networks would impact how we learn, work, vote, share, and more?
My digital self “under review” is not only a result of my distrust in sharing over media, the Russian hack of social media during the US election or even my aversion to having any “smart speaker” in our home that records and gathers data each day. Nor is it the fact that I live with a cybersecurity professional or that Black Mirror‘s sociotechnical sci-fi drama offers an eerie foreshadow to what lies ahead of us in the not-so-distant future. I embraced online and a connect being for over a decade now, so there’s no wonder why my digital footprint has me grappling with issues of digital security, personal wellness, individual safety, and the privacy paradox of living/working in a connected world.Image c/o The WIRED Guide to Digital Security
That being said, the free and open collection of knowledge on social media cannot offer regular fact-checking or verified expertise. This is critical for those who are a part of this shared, collective community online. The future of knowledge can be misleading if we are letting these platforms guide us by the information we share and the interactions within the network. As Tim Berners-Lee stated in his open letter written about the internet, he is concerned we have lost control of our personal data, misinformation is easily spread on the Web, and online transparency and understanding are needed in political advertising [as well as other spheres online].
Lately, I have been struggling with how our society is entrenched and relies on technological platforms. My true concern for self-auditing my digital life is to understand more about the impact and influence I have let technology and platforms invade my everyday way of living. As a reminder, platforms are:
“digital infrastructures that enable two or more groups to interact… [and] bring together different users… with a series of tools that enable their users to build their own products, services, and marketplaces” (Srnicek, 2017, p. 43).
The reliance on online networks and digital platforms might be more problematic than we think. There seems to be much power owned by these digital platforms. For example, the digital curation website, Storify, plans to shut down and delete data by May 2018. Like a few of my peers, I too am questioning the use of services and accounts we don’t own or control. I understand why a growing number of higher ed and ed tech colleagues are thinking the same was as they trim their digital contribution on Twitter, close down their accounts on major social media platforms, like Facebook, and take by control of the web by creating a domain of one’s own.
For me, this virtual audit exercise will include and go beyond social networks and connected sites to also examine WHERE, WHY, and HOW I live/work digitally. I think it’s a critical time to reevaluate the platforms and technologies we are using, in general. Where the data is stored? Who has access to what? Who owns the rights to my created or uploaded content? Am I utilizing appropriate _____ platform/technology for my personal/professional life? Are there other means that are not “free” I should be considering? It’s not like I have not done this activity before — but this time it might mean that I took “break up” with a platform or connected sites. For 2018, I want to be more diligent with my personal data, private information and online “being,” to limit surveillance/tracking online and to align my own values and ethics with networks and platforms I use.
Srnicek, N. (2017). Platform capitalism. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.