Identities and belonging

I’m really excited to join digPINS, and especially to start off with a week dedicated to thinking about digital identity. I geek out a bit in this area (as those on the synchronous Zoom call on 5/9 can attest – sorry!), as my dissertation research used new literacies and social identities frameworks to consider the role that technology played in undergraduate social identity enactment. (Emphasis on identities rather than identity – thinking of identity as socially constructed within discourses, and that we perform or enact multiple identities over the course of a given day – see, here I’m performing my insufferable nerd identity. ;)) Anyway, all of which is to say, that I have Thoughts and Feelings about the topic.

Our “assignment” this week was to create a digital identity map using the Visitor-Resident continuum. As I set out to perform my “good student” identity and create my own V-R map, I opened up the suggested reading to find out a little bit more about the theoretical underpinnings of the V-R mapping activity. I understood it to have been created to push back against the Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants construct which is overly essentializing (I agree, and wrote about it in a 2007 manuscript called Questioning Assumptions About Students’ Expectations for Technology in College Classrooms). I understood the “visitor” identity to be an Internet user who is information seeking/task oriented, and who consumes but doesn’t produce; on the flip side, a “resident” is connection seeking – for either social or task-oriented purposes – and who produces as well as consumes.

But Visitor and Resident didn’t sit well with me; they felt in some way value-laden (not unlike Digital Native and Digital Immigrant). Like, the ideal to aspire to is Resident, with its emphasis on production. In the Zoom chat, Sundi Richards pointed out that it was interesting that I took Visitor to have a negative connotation, and I think this feeling may have been shaped by the fact that before doing this exercise, I read another suggested reading, Why Academics Need a Digital Persona, which seemed to me to underscore the value placed on production in digital spaces (without problematizing things like, vital for whom? for what purposes? when we value digital production, who gets left out?).

Also, Autumm Caines made a comment that resonated with me: that belonging is in the mix when we’re talking about identities. Writing about how social identities are enacted within Discourses, Jim Gee suggests that we perform social identities in order to be recognized as belonging to/by other people (like us) within a Discourse, while at the same time signaling the boundaries of the Discourse – who we are not like, who does not belong. Although Visitor and Resident are meant to be snapshots of practice contextualized within particular times and spaces, they still signal something (to me, anyway) about being an insider or outsider (the specifics of which I’m still trying to unpack, I’ll admit – but, this blog post is due by Friday, and this “good student” will turn it in on time!).

So, instead of completing the V-R map, I chose to play with the triangle map proposed by Donna Lanclos and Lawrie Phipps, which asks you to place yourself on a continuum of actions – creation, consumption, and conversation – rather than align with a particular identity. Here’s the result of my (quick) effort:

Sarah's triangle map of Internet actions and behaviors

It was easier for me to align my tools and platforms with these behaviors and actions; those inside the triangle represent institutional actions/uses, and outside the triangle, personal actions/uses. Some cross the barrier between personal and institutional; I used a directional arrow to indicate this. Facebook, for example, I use primarily to share personal updates with family and friends, but occasionally use to post about my professional goings-on. We had an interesting discussion the Zoom session as to whether/how to assign meaning to the location of the tool within the triangle; Sundi suggested that location could indicate intensity of use, along the lines of the SenseMaker survey method.

Gee defines Discourses as “well-integrated combinations of language, actions, interactions, objects, tools, technologies, beliefs, and values.” I think that the triangle map could be a useful conversation starter for connecting actions and tools to beliefs and values and how those are taken up in digital social identity enactment.