I’ve previously given a quick overview of my planned (and in progress) Reclaim Project. One of the reasons for embarking on this was playing with the concept of digital identity.
In a caffeine inspired ideas session a couple of months ago I was trying to think through the idea of the “self” in a digital sense. I came back to the notes I made yesterday after reading Audrey Watters’ post about the Reclaim Hackathon (something that I soooo want to be a part of next time – virtual attendance on the cards?) where she brings up the concept of the “Templated Self”.
Like Audrey I think the concepts of identity and self are extremely important for education. It’s something I believe that the whole sector (K-12 through Higher Ed) has traditionally struggled with. The rise of the EdTech phenomenon has massively impacted on the ability for staff and students to exhibit and leverage these concepts. EdTech has bought with it increased centralisation and removal of diversity, and the ability for it to exist, in favour of overly complex monolithic systems. They come with all the bells and whistles yet my experience is they do little to support the individual, in fact they go out of their way to remove the individual from the operation. This “joke” from David Wiley’s recent post sums that experience:
Q: What would happen if Facebook worked like Blackboard?
A: Every 15 weeks Facebook would delete all your photos and status updates and unfriend all your friends.
EdTech currently seems more interested in data points, analytics and the idea of “personalisation” while it simultaneously exhibits every behaviour and action to remove the notion of anyone being a person from the system.
So it’s with those thoughts that I decided to dip back into the ideas that prompted me into the whole Reclaim space and explore/explain a little more….
We are complex beings and the idea of the self is something philosophers have explored for centuries. So some of my initial thinking has been about how do you come to represent that complexity in a digital space?
In my opinion the first mistake that most make is to start with the idea of the self as a singularity. You cannot hope to represent the self with a single solution – no matter how smart or complex. While it’s nice to believe that there’s such a thing as our “true self” but it doesn’t exist as an entity. Instead our existence is represented by a multitude of expressions, each dependant and reactive to how we interact within different contexts. Each of us are multiple expressions of a single being, each defined by the different context and relationship we find ourselves in.
For example: the me in that turns up to the office is not the same me that exists at home with my family. I act, behave and do different things – defined by the context and relationship I have with that particular space/place/person/role. There’s a difference in the way we are with our lovers compared to when we are with our boss, yet are we not the same person?
We create personas which are still “us”, they just express only a portion of who we are, in effect operating to conceal us as a whole.
After coming to this point I started digging around the old filing cabinet and headed back to psych 101. This concept started to align with Jung’s idea of the persona as a “kind of mask, designed on the one hand to make a definite impression upon others, and on the other to conceal the true nature of the individual”. Now I don’t want to get all psychoanalytical and explore what that “true nature” is – just that there is a concept of a true nature – a self – behind the persona. What interests me in particular the shape and form that self can be expressed through a digital medium.
Jung called this self the anima/animus (male/female). This underlying unconscious mind helped balance and maintain the persona… and it’s this idea that drew me into phrasing and conceptualising my reclaim project. I don’t want to turn this into a Jungian thing – it’s just the terminology I found that suited what I was trying to explain
Reclaim is about retaking control – not just of my personas – but taking back ownership of my animae**. It’s about liberating that underlying, hidden and difficult concept of my self. I’m not just reclaiming ownership data – I’m reclaiming how I am able to express myself. I am attempting to define my digital animae, the infrastructure and underlying foundations that I can build and define my personas.
When it comes to my Reclaim Project this means in practice is that I am not going to build a single site for all my stuff to go into. Rather the way I’ve conceptualised this is to use WordPress Multisite and other services I can connect to through APIs. In many ways this technology stack resembles the way we as individuals contract our personas. They allow us to create multiple faces while sharing a common root. Elements can be shared or compartmentalised. The look and interface can be consistent or customised. Functional can match the environment and purpose. In this way I am able to build a more complex self without trying to find a single super-system that in effect becomes a single point of failure. I
This is how I am mapping out my Reclaim project – as multiple and discreet functions that map back to a single domain – www.timklapdor.me. The landing page that’s currently there lays out some of the existing “channels” I use to express my digital self (and ones that I will continue to use for the time being). The ability for WordPress Multisite to create many custom sites and services is evident in the first site I’ve set up Miscellanea. This will become my curation tool for all the various stuff I research and find on the web. It becomes a library space for future reference and dissemination.
I am just beginning this process, but it feels right. It’s rare that you get that feeling working with technology where everything changes so rapidly. Yet I there’s a sense of pride in taking on this work. If I don’t take back ownership of my own self, who, what and how will others define me?
** I’m going to use the term Animae to remove some of the sexual/gender connotations that Jung implied. It’s a bastardisation of the term I know but Anime already refers to awesome Japanese comics :-)