After a brief hiatus, we hit the ground running in our first ECI 832 class after the winter break. This weeks class was packed full of information that helped us to reflect on our identity, not only in the real world, but in the digital world too. While there is so much that can comprise our digital identity, the notion of the "Digital Footprint" was something that really stuck with me. Through participation in a "Cyber-Sleuthing" activity, we spent some time "researching" (one could call it creeping as well), a willing volunteer and were tasked with finding as much digital information as we could on each individual. This was a real eye-opener for me as I was surprised in how much information we were able to find on our assigned individual from random sources. While the obvious places to look were social media accounts, we were also able to find plenty of personal information from outside sources such as projects that were completed when they were in university, phone numbers from old resumes, and even through reverse-image searches. This definitely hit home with me, as up until that point I felt that I had done a pretty good job of moderating what personal information I shared online. The fact that so much of our personal online information could actually be shared without us even knowing it, really got me thinking about my own digital identity, and how it was changed, and will continue to change with each day that passes.
The Past Matt Bresciani
Having grown up in the "Digital Age", my digital identity wasn't something that I was fully aware of or completely understood. Before the time of social media, I believe my digital identity was relatively sparse as aside from MSN Messenger and Neopets, I really didn't have much of an online presence. In fact, I remember being so amazed when I was in Elementary School, that if I searched my name on Web Crawler (not sure how many people would know what this was anymore), I could find a picture that I had drawn for a contest. Aside from that, there was very little attached to my name online. It wasn't until the first social media websites started coming out, that I really started adding to my digital image (and quickly).
Reflecting on it now, I can't believe how much I posted online without really thinking about it. Before Facebook was officially launched, I remember signing up for multiple social media accounts and uploading personal information such as profile pictures, my birthday etc. Between 2005 and 2007, I had used MySpace, Nexopia, and Hi5 to connect with my friends online. The kicker was we would only use each one for a few months before ditching it for the next popular website; it wasn't until Facebook launched in 2007 that I finally stuck with one website. Just thinking about this now, it's scary how much personal information I've left in the digital abyss without even batting an eye. While a quick google search, brings up nothing from these old social media accounts, I'm sure if I was to dig for long enough, I would be able to find some of what I posted to these websites in my teens.
With the creation of Facebook, I can distinctly remember a shift in what I was sharing (often oversharing) online - and man was it ever a lot. With Facebook, not only did I want to post (and get tagged) in tons of pictures, but there was also pressure to share lots of personal information such as my birthday, gender, city, relationship status, likes, dislikes, and interests. While this wouldn't have been a big deal if I was only sharing this information with a small number of people, there was also a lot of pressure to expand my social circle, and make as many Facebook friends as I could. I specifically remember people bragging about how many "friends" they had on Facebook, as if it was some sort of indication of their popularity and self-worth. Regardless of what your social situation was like in real life, so much value was placed on how many "friends" you had, and while it seems a little ridiculous, I still see this mindset with my students in apps like Instagram (Followers) and Snapchat. As scary as it is, I would estimate that in its prime, I had close to 1000 friends on Facebook, many who I didn't know well (or at all) - all with direct access to my personal info. Scary!
As time progressed after High School, I'd like to think that I matured and so too, did my understanding of the impact I was leaving online. While I still wasn't putting a ton of thought into what I was sharing online (and with who), I do remember a major shift in how I approached my digital identity in my third year of education. After having the opportunity to participate in a pre-internship experience, I quickly learned that the first thing students were going to do when meeting their new interns, was to find them on Facebook. It didn't take long for my first student to try and "add" me, which led me down a bit of a rabbit hole as discovered that I essentially had an open Facebook account and all my information was available to anyone who searched for me on Facebook. As you can imagine, I was quite shocked as a quick look at the pictures on my profile would depict a very different identity than the professional one I was trying to present as a pre-service teacher. This led to the Great Purge of 2010 as I went on a tear of deleting and untagging myself in any pictures that didn't promote my mature and professional identity (Goodbye Craven pictures!) It was at this time, that I also learned more about the privacy settings on Facebook and ultimately changed the "tagging" system, and essentially created a closed account so I could no longer be searched.
The Present Matt Bresciani
As was mentioned earlier, after my third year of education, I had ultimately made the decision to limit as much of my digital presence online as I could so it couldn't be used against me as a professional. This was my philosophy for much of my final year of University until I was introduced to a different approach after taking ECMP 355, with our very own Alec Couros. In this class, Alec made it clear that having a digital presence was not a bad thing or something that we needed to hide from the public, but rather something that we needed to spend time meaningfully building. Regardless of how hard I tried to keep things private, there were always going to be aspects of my identity that were going to make their way online, so rather than fight this, I made the decision to embrace it.
I feel quite satisfied now (in my eighth year of teaching) with my digital identity as I once again did a self google search after our class last week. The results are exactly what I had been hoping for all those years ago as an undergrad student - google is packed with information about me that all create a positive and professional digital identity. Whether it is information that is directly linked to my professional life such as blogs or school websites, recreational information such as my Goodreads account, or even pictures and stats from the Football leagues that I play in, all this information is positive and helps to build the identity that I want.
The Future Matt Bresciani
This is definitely an interesting notion as I don't see myself switching up the practices I'm using to help create the digital identity that I've worked so hard on. However, one thing that I definitely need to be cognizant of is the large amount of Fake News and clickbait that is currently out there. I would hate to tarnish the Digital Identity that I've worked towards by sharing or liking an article without fully investigating or CRAAP Checking it. Thankfully my peer Dean, has me covered with his Major Project!
Something I also wonder about is how I would approach the digital identity of any future children I might have. Is this something that I need to help to actively build for them as they grow - until they are ready to take it over for themselves, or something I should try to keep as close to a blank slate as I can? I'm very curious about this as there doesn't seem to be a consensus among parents as to how to handle the digital presence of their children. While thinking about this, I did a quick google search and a 2014 article titled "How Young is Too Young for a Digital Presence" was one of the first things that popped up. It's clear that even six years after this article was published, there still is no definitive answer to this question.
While I may not have a fully formed opinion on this, I'm wondering if anyone else has any experience in this and could provide me with their thoughts around handling your child's digital presence?