For this assignment, I looked at the Controlling your Public Appearance, Footprints in the Digital Age, Three-Part Who Owns the Digital You, and Six Key Selves of Networked Publics, and Personal Branding in the Age of Google pages to gain some insight into what digital identity is and how to cultivate it. The most fascinating thing about these sites is that many of them were written from between 2007-2012, a period of time that the Internet just… isn’t familiar to so many of the Gen-Zers using it because of our age. Because of this, some of the ideas the blogs are trying to get across either seem irrelevant or just obvious to someone with the benefit of hindsight and the drawback of not experiencing this era of the Internet. However, just like the Rosenzweig Textbook, their age makes it so that the lessons to be learned from them seem weightier. Despite it all, they’ve stood the test of time. So, what are some lessons we can learn from these pages, regardless of their age?
Lesson 1: Google was, and will continue to be, both the enemy and ally for as long as we live
Maybe that’s inaccurate, maybe we’ll have a new search engine to reveal our digital selves to the world soon, but it’s fair to say that we will continue to use being searchable to our advantage, while trying to avoid the pitfalls of being easy to find.
Lesson 2: Blogging just might still matter
While living in the age of visual media, it’s almost unbelievable to read the posts about why blogging is an important way to get noticed. Blogging has fallen out of fashion among students, and yet I think I get why it was so popular for a time and how it can still be useful. It’s a platform for people to get their thoughts out through writing, rather than having to place themselves on social media where it’s not just your writing being scrutinized, but your camera quality, face, outfit, etc etc. It’s out of the norm, but there’s a benefit to blogging that’s been forgotten in the past few years.
Lesson 3: People actually do look you up on Google
I thought this was a lie told to us in high school. I’ve done it before! I’ve looked people up online! I’ve watched my friends do it! And yet. And yet I thought it was just a scare tactic to claim that employers would do the same. This one is self explanatory. It’s also a tough pill to swallow.
Lesson 4: You can cater to your audience
There’s this idea that your digital identity has to be the pinnacle of professionalism. A clean word press site, nice professional head shots on your website, the social media equivalent of a business-major job interview. That is, however, completely untrue. Talking about your passions online is a way to create a network, it’s a way to show people that you have a personality. Of course, if your employer is looking you up (as they might do, according to Lesson 3), there’s a desire to treat the internet like a job interview, but job interviews change their tone based on the position. Artists are allowed to be artsy, comedians are allowed to be funny, and accountants* are allowed to be boring. It’s all about the work you love.
Lesson 5: The Internet is big, scary, and changes at an exponential rate
It was only a year ago that I found out about NFTs, and a few months after that when people started whispering about the elusive Web 3.0. There is a post talking about how the Internet is one of the few technologies where children are fully leading without adults, because it’s a new learning experience that nobody is fully equipped to handle. This is a post from 2007 talking about Internet safety and what it means to build a community online. Since then, we’ve seen the rise of extremist groups using the Internet to recruit and situations where ordinary people can become famous overnight due to the content they create. It’s easy to believe that there is a right way to express your digital identity, and there are certainly rules to follow, but it’s impossible to ever know when the next big shift will occur or what it will be. We need to be able to change along with them, or our digital identities will stagnate and die.
It is crucial that we learn how to keep our digital selves alive.