Who are we? Who am I? Who are our students? Who do our students think they are? These and other deeply philosophical questions have coloured many recent discussions around digital identity. Social media and other tech tools have given us unprecedented access to others and have opened up new and faster channels for sharing our own thoughts, opinions, laments and ideas. We now share more and more often, and spend more time attempting to teach out students the dangers that can arise from sharing too much, too often or too soon. In discussing digital identity, we seem to spend more time on what we share and less on who we are.
A larger discussion about identity and identity development in the aptly named digital age is a subject for another blog post (or, at the very least, a PhD dissertation). Sharing of ourselves, however, has caught my attention as a topic worth exploring as student affairs professionals continue to search for ways to teach students how to responsibility, ethically and safely use social media and other tools. Seminars on personal branding, LinkedIn tipsheets and student conduct cases of cyber bullying have created a strange culture of fear and seclusion, built by individuals that fight to embrace open and authentic sharing. Lives are measured in likes and esteem is held against a yardstick of retweets and shares.
This confused culture of tentative yet overabundant sharing can play games with a malleable identity, still developing throughout the college years. We often compare and contrast what we see on the screen to what we see around us, putting on either rose-coloured glasses when we see images that confirm what we know or darker shades when we see ideals that seem breathtakingly out of reach. Our students, like we often do ourselves, take their cues from peers and seek out success stories to model their own ideal of ‘life’ around.
Discussions around digital identity and the repercussions of both sharing and consuming information always leads me back to one of my favourite quotes. Steven Furtick offers poignant advice for those growing up and finding themselves in the digital age (read: anyone currently living on this planet):
“We struggle with insecurity because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.”
While this post offers important and eye-opening advice about living in a age where the sheer amount of information and the speed at which it Is delivered has us drinking in insecurity through a fire hose, the concept of a ‘highlight reel’ is important for teachings in creating and sharing one’s digital identity. Each post, picture, like, share and comment becomes our personal highlight reel. It is what we show to the world; what we choose as our best and brightest moments that demonstrate who we are. Perhaps, then, our discussions about the ‘dangers of social media’ and the lectures on appropriate posts should come not from a place of what others may perceive, but rather from a deeper and more thoughtful exploration of our own motives. What do we want our story to be? As you build a life one post at a time, what do you want playing on your highlight reel? – what will you story be? What do you want on your highlight reel?
– Lisa Endersby is the Manager, Student and Campus Life at Seneca College in Ontario, Canada. She is also working to connect and engage NASPA technology friends and fans in her role supporting Community Engagement in the NASPA Technology Community.