O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An’ foolish notion:
What airs in dress an’ gait wad lea’e us,
An’ ev’n devotion! To a louse
I’ve been thinking a lot about identity recently – who I am online and offline; how I see myself and how others might see me; what various philosophers say about the question of personal identity … that sort of thing.
I realise, of course, that how I am seen is shaped by the various platforms I use – not just because of the constraints of word limits on Twitter, for example, but in other less obvious ways. Or, at least, less obvious to me.
When I started to use social media professionally I made a conscious decision to use my existing (“personal”) accounts for everything and not to set up new ones. As well as not wanting the bother of having different accounts, I anticipated that it was not going to be easy to sharply delineate my personal and professional lives – that lines would blur and that this would not be a bad thing. I still think that I made the right decision, but this decision has led to some minor constraints on what I can and can’t do with my profiles.
For example, a colleague and I use Facebook groups to support what we call VPAL (virtual peer assisted learning) for undergrads in science and engineering. The facilitation we do in these groups is very light touch, as students usually help each other out, but we do post from time to time. And this means that I need to think about what I use as my profile picture. Not to censor myself, necessarily, but to think about how the images I use affect how folk might react to me.
I hadn’t thought about that much before, but the images I choose to use on social media define who I am to the friends and followers I have there. Not (so much) the folk I know “IRL”, but the ones who have never come across me face to face.
So, when we set up the FB groups, to start with I used “safe” images as my profile pic- a pic that a friend drew for me, pics of my cat, that sort of thing. But as time went on I realised that I was not going to be politically neutral in my choices of images. I used the logo for our campaign against zero hours
because I WANTED the students to become aware of how others were being exploited. I added a “YES” Twibbon to my profile because I cared about Independence, I made a mash up of a Saltire and an EU flag during the Brexit
fiasco referendum because I do not want out of the EU, goddammit. (grrrr!)
And that’s changed how I teach as well. I used to try to be politically neutral, to let my students come to their own philosophical opinions. And I used to fail, dismally. Reading Deleuze, Nietzsche and other philosophical reprobates has helped me to articulate (to myself, at least) the impossibility of any objective stance, and of separating out (in any real sense) the personal, the political and the professional.
So I might not be “really” free, but I can at least to some extent pick and choose who I appear to be.
(I’ve taken advice from an LSE blog post and not taken too long writing this.)