Reclaim & Rethink

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 :-)

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6 thoughts on “Reclaim & Rethink

  1. Thank you so much for responding to my post! And I’ll definitely keep you in the loop when we move forward with other #reclaim plans.

    I really love how you’ve furthered some of my (admittedly unformed) thoughts on the “templated self.”

    One of the things I’d add here: I think that we perform multiple “selves” in front of multiple audiences. The “Audrey” I perform in front of my mom is different than the “Audrey” I perform on Twitter is different than the “Audrey” I perform at home. They’re all me. There are just multiples, not a single identities that I wield.

    What I worry about with the “templated self” is that the identities we get to perform online are circumscribed in new and powerful ways. It isn’t just the restrictions and retractions of my performance of “me” that I knowingly make when I interact with my mom; it’s something written into the architecture, the technological infrastructure of our lives. It’s not *me* who gets to decide how I perform my identity; it’s the software.

    And I have to wonder how this circumscribes identity development? I think this about the pressure to give up privacy too, the pressure to live with all our data and transactions and content “in public.” But importantly, as we’re forced to do that, we are pushed into these templates. And what then for individuality, creativity, and as I note in my post, resistance to all of that.

    1. Totally onboard with the multiple selves idea. Still wondering how to articulate that clearly… I started to think of Lego as a metaphor – that we build our various selves out of a pool of blocks. In this way parts of us are shared and reused in our various personas – but they are each an individual construction shaped to suit the context. Even at work I am different depending on the company I’m in but there are commonalities across the various personas. I guess thats our “personality” :-)

      It’s complex and I don’t want to diminish that in the way a self-help guide would like… here’s 5 easy steps to define yourself… we are complex, just learn to deal with it!

      While there are risks of allowing software to created a “templated self” I wonder if it’s a good case of why we need to be vigilant, but also not to underestimate the level of control the user still has to hack and subvert the template or even participate. I think there’s a tendency to fall into a trap where we fall into a templated mindset as the default – which diminishes the many choices we still have in how and what we choose to use, participate, share and (maybe more importantly) not. By default systems are there for us to hack to suit our needs – not the needs of shareholders or VCs. We seem to forget that there are a range of choice we still have control over – that ultimately we get to decide and we find the places and space that ultimately suit us.

      Identity development is a really, really interesting question. Privacy and openness are important questions we have to begin to start answering. I do wonder if the answers are actually shaped by how well we have developed our real/analogue/offline identity? If you have a good sense of your self digitally you are merely representing that self… but if you have no idea (like most teenagers)… how can you represent that? And how can you experiment and try out various personas and selves if the internet never forgets?

      That’s one bit of technology I would love to see – a shelf life put on data. You can choose to hold on to things (turn them into a ‘memory) – but by default everything dies in five years.

  2. I’m wondering if it’s all a bit more circular or relational. You have a set of identities but the act of doing stuff – be it technology or not, templated or not – ends up changing some or all of those identities. I’m a long way from being a teenager and I’m not convinced that I’ve got a real good sense of my identity(ies), though I’m pretty sure I’d like them to evolve over what years I have left.

    Which brings up the question of how you evolve those identities in fruitful ways and use technology to help. The “templated” approach I think has problems. Hence liking the direction of the Reclaim project. But that approach requires skill, time, energy, and a bunch of other resources. Resources I’m only now starting to employ to this end.

    Though I am stuck at the first hurdle, what domain shall I (re)claim as mine? Which one fits best with my identity and isn’t overwhelmed by another entity?

    Speaking of resources brings me back to Tim’s point about systems being their to be hacked. I’m wondering how widely spread the (personal) resources necessary to hack those systems actually is. I’m not convinced they are and more so I’m wondering whether the recognition that they can be hacked isn’t being “bred” out of the population through the on-going use of templated systems?

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