The Many Masks We Wear

Written By: Kelsey Giroux

Kelsey Giroux

Kelsey Giroux

When I started digging around Google last night for some articles about digital footprints and its implications in schools and the workforce I didn’t realize things would get… well… so interesting. A key starting point in my wanderings was coming across an article in the Guardian: Online Identity – is authenticity or anonymity more important?

As I clicked along, I found four major trends in my searching last night but the four ideas occupy two opposite but related realms. As one realm grows, it’s inevitable that the other will too.

The Underlying Truth of Realm One – “I will be Googled so I better make the results good.”

Trend One: A lack of a footprint is quickly becoming undesirable.

“One of my worst fears as [my children] grow older is that they won’t be Googled well. … that when a certain someone (read: admissions officer, employer, potential mate) enters ”Tess Richardson” into the search line of the browser, what comes up will be less than impressive. That a quick surf through the top five hits will fail to astound with examples of her creativity, collaborative skills, and change-the-world work. Or, even worse, that no links about her will come up at all.” (Will Richardson, Footprints in a Digital Age)

This is an evolution I’m sure many of us can attest to. A few years ago I went to lengths to make sure you couldn’t find me online but last year I flipped and decided to embrace my digital footprint and took action to make sure you find me online.

If we accept trend one as a process that we have no other choice but to yield to, then we we must consider trend two.

Trend Two: the inevitable growth of “SUPER BRAND ME”.

A lot of the discussion in schools currently around digital footprints is about helping students understand that they leave a digitial footprint – good or bad. A lot of the emphasis is on steering kids to avoid leaving a “bad” footprint. This is an important step in the right direction.

The next logical step is not a big one to take. If I want to avoid a negative footprint, then how can I saturate search results with good information? Many schools and companies are encouraging students to take control of their digitial footprint by googling yourself and taking action to change the information. This is great. We all want an accurate representation of ourselves and our accomplishments online.

But… and it’s a big one… the flip side of avoiding a negative digital footprint and the temptation to develop a “super-brand-me” is lurking around the corner. How do we ensure our students (and ourselves) know where to draw the proverbial line? That there is the truth, embellishment, and then there is outright fabrication.

Perhaps recruiters will still have a leg up on applicants if more websites follow Hire Art‘s lead and create challenge based interviews. The death of the traditional resume is looming.

Managing one’s online reputation has become so commonplace that there are a number of tools to support the endeavor: Klout, Reppler and more.

The Underlying Truth of Realm Two – I will be Googled so I’m going to avoid detection

Trend Three: people will develop multiple online personas: public vs. private vs. fantasy vs. secret (if they haven’t already).

In another [workshop] this was brought to life by a 14-year-old girl who had twenty-seven Facebook profiles, and this was seen to be typical in her peer group: one was the profile that her parents and teachers could see and the one that in four years’ time would be visible to the universities she hoped to attend; another was specifically for interacting with her school friends and yet another was how she kept her relations back in Pakistan updated. While these three all provided different takes on the same person and were clearly designed to share different aspects of her life to target audiences, her other twenty-four profiles were all made up and ranged from a 14-year-old boy to a 25-year-old woman.” (Future Agenda)

Pause and reflect for a moment that this was only on Facebook. Makes one really question the true number of Facebook users. Many of us already manage public versus private identities by using Google+ circles and Facebook’s Lists.

What about other sites, especially sites that encourage lack of “real” identities? A quick peek into the world of online gaming reveals a place where fantasy identities are well, the whole point. So much so that it’s even an interesting glimpse into the psychological underpinnings of it all.

Then there’s the not-so-secret-but-secret-persona sites: 4chan, reddit and more.

Trend Four: leave no trace

For many people this is perhaps one of the most worrisome for teens. As quickly as we educate them about leaving a positive footprint someone invents a technology to leave no footprint.

If snapchat and wickr are any indication than the trend with the most momentum in 2013 is probably going to be taking things underground.

What do you see as being the major trends as we examine the development and mastery of our own digital footprints?

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