Personae Paralysis

mediaThe task this week required us to search for our own online tracks and traces. As my primary feeling about my social media presence is guilt about not effectively maintaining it, I was worried about what I might find. Working as an edtech consultant, my professional life is fragmented: I work as a contractor for a number of different companies as well as running a number of my own. This complicates the construction and maintenance of my online personae: I work in different roles, for different companies, in different places. I am acutely conscious of the convergence of these professional roles when, for example, I update LinkedIn: might my followers be confused about who I work for or what I do? This nervousness around what Meyrowitz (quoted in boyd, 2014, p.31) terms ‘collapsed contexts’ has resulted in a form of social media inertia where I have simply avoided the effective creation and curation of both my ‘formal’ and ‘networked’ selfs (Barbour and Mitchell, 2012). As boyd notes, “the ability to understand how context, audience and identity intersect is one of the central challenges people face in learning how to navigate social media.” (p.30). This challenge has resulted in a form of paralysis for me: I created a ‘formal’ online presence on LinkedIn some time ago and left it at that.

This week’s readings and activities have proved to be a call to action. Ignoring my presence, ignoring the need to develop a professional persona is not an option if I want to maintain professional credibility. As Turkle notes (quoted in boyd, 2014, p. 36), people who went online had to consciously create their digital presence. My presence is currently weak and outdated. Importantly, the lack of busy-ness on my social media profiles indicates (erroneously) a lack of busy-ness in my professional life. I am not effectively engaging in what Goffman (cited in boyd, 2014, p.47) terms ‘impression management’ and the impression ‘given off’ is one of inactivity.

As I have noted previously, online identity creation is about words; as Sundén states, creating a digital persona is about ‘people typing themselves into being’ (quoted in boyd, 2012, p.37). Stearn’s point is similar ‘ communicators must consciously re present themselves online.’ (quoted in Barbour and Mitchell, 2012).

So, this week I have:

However, I’m competing in an arena where my peers are actively creating impressive impressions of themselves and their work. So, for me, it’s now not enough to simply ‘do’; I have to show and tell.

boyd. d. (2014). Identity: why do teens seem so strange online. It’s Complicated: the social lives of Networked Teens, pp. 54-76 Available (full ebook text) from:
Ronson, J. (2015) How one stupid tweet blew up Justine Sacco’s Life. New York Times, 12th February 2015. Available from:
Barbour, K.  and Marshall, D.  (2012) The academic online: constructing persona through the www.  First Monday, 17(9) [Online].  Available from

A thought snippet: all by myself

It has been interesting to spend time alone within Second Life this week and to explore what my identity feels like when not ‘with’ ‘others’ within the space. Fornäs’ notion of ‘identity-producing interactions’ (Fornäs et al. 2002, p.34) suggests, on first reading, that my virtual identity is heightened when interacting with other avatars within the space. However, the whole of Second Life is a construct, a space designed for avatar interactions and thus identity-producing.

My first solo journey was to Sparta where I was looking for the God of War of the treasure hunt. I was relieved to find that the space was deserted – of avatars – but I was in a constructed space filled with a sense of human agency and humour (more anatomically correct ‘bits’ had been added to the statues in the virtual museum for example). I was interacting with others, with the objects they had placed there and with the spaces they had created.


My second journey was to a space created in response to Macbeth. I have detailed information about this journey here.

The shivers of teleportation

Navarathna’s shot film. ‘A journey into the metaverse’ playfully and powerfully explores the concept of identity and the supposed boundaries between the ‘real’ self and the ‘virtual’ self, between the real world and the virtual world. It offers a response to Boellstorff’s question, ‘Can the avatar speak?’ (Boellstorff, 2008, p. 149). The narrative focuses on an avatar, abandoned by his creator in Second Life who sets out to find his ‘God’. The avatar initially becomes the master but the film real and virtualexplores how boundaries between virtual and real identities are mutable and shifting; the notion of separation is a false construct and, for the avatar/real ‘self’, ‘chance, reality and virtuality (lose) all sense of definition’. The film blends real world and virtual world footage, further blurring the sense of boundaries between the two domains.

Sannyasin: a religious ascetic who has renounced the world by performing his own funeral and abandoning all claims to social or family standing

Set in part in India, the film draws some interesting parallels between the fate of the central avatar/self and the Sannyasin, who renounce the material world. Further, meditation, and its power to ‘free the mind and lose ego’ is also referenced. Navarathna thereby alludes to the key concept of what our smeditationelf, our identity is. Where does it lie? What is it? Is virtuality a way of accessing our true, more authentic self? Is the self without place, without fixity, a concept explored by Dennett. In drawing parallels with meditation which requires us to separate from thought, from ego and develop a different sense of what it is to ‘be’, Navarathna posits exploration and immersion within the virtual is also ‘freeing’ – our self can ‘slip through the crack.’

Boellstorff, T. (2008). Personhood. In Coming of Age in Second Life (pp. 118-150). Oxford: Princeton University Press.

Me, myself and I

This week we have again been exploring notions and experiences of identity through immersion within Second Life. I have spent more time ‘there’ this week: engaging in the treasure hunt, exploring learning spaces, having a ‘voice’ tutorial and dancing. The strong sense of presence I experienced in Week 7  has been consolidated and extended this week through further virtual adventuring and through more interactions in Holyrood Park. Although I don’t identify with the physicality of my avatar (I haven’t yet got round to altering ‘her’) I do have a strong sense of being present through her: for example, I visited Echo Beach to test my sound and, when a large, muscular, scantily-clad avatar also arrived, I quickly left, feeling a sense of threat and inappropriateness. Marshall/Pancha’s refrain ‘it’s only pixels’ rang in my virtual/metaphorical ears as I teleported out. I did enjoy dancing later that day though and truly felt a sense of ‘presence enacting itself as an embodied activity’ (Taylor, 2002, p.44), an embodiment powerfully linked to vision (M. White, 2006)’ (quoted in Boellstorff, 2008 p.134) and, in this instance, sound (George Benson…)

Silverback's new avatar
Silverback’s new avatar

We explored this sense of connectedness with our avatars further in Thursday night’s tutorial. Paul/Silverback appeared as a Gorilla: he had spent 600 lindens (£4) on this as he had such a strong reaction against the set of default avatars which Second Life offers. He mentioned that, when his avatar initially appeared, he felt like he was ‘lying’ and so was willing to invest real money to change his virtual self. He had invested in  his ‘projective’ identity, projecting his own ‘values and desires onto the virtual character’ (Gee, 2003, p.55) and seeing ‘the virtual character as (his) own project in the making’ (ibid, p.55). As Boellstorff notes, avatars are ‘the modality through which residents experienced virtual selfhood’ (2008, p.129); if I end up spending more time in Second life beyond this week, I too will invest more in developing my avatar and, probably, changing its sex.

Like all of our learning on the course so far, because we are engaged with the spaces we are reading about and exploring, loop input methodologies were at play this week. This was strongly felt when our tutor Rory/Algernon Twang.asked us to explore Gee’s concept of virtual spaces offering a more risk-free environment: a ‘psychosocial moratorium’ (p.67). In the discussion which followed, I highlighted that I felt that our interactions within this virtual world and in our other tutorials felt more risky that real-life more sustained interactions as they were irregular and therefore more imbued with a sense of import. This was, I felt, especially true where voice was concerned as this felt more like the ‘real’ me spilling into the carefully curated, virtual ‘me’. Cultivating a community of inquiry through ordered and controlled discussion forums is different to ‘exposing’ a facet of one’s identity through voice. I certainly feel more comfortable, as I have touched on before, with an identity constructed from text. As the virtual opiniontator showed, I wasn’t the only one to feel like this. The gorilla disagreed.

Voice tutorial_009

This is of real interest to me at the moment as I am currently devising and delivering a sequence of webinars for teachers at the schools I work with. They will be asked to interact with me and with each other via voice through Skype for Business and I will now be attuned to how unsettling this can potentially be. To have a facet of yourself, of your identity disembodied can be disconcerting, even if it is re-embodied within an avatar.

Boellstorff, T. (2008). Personhood. In Coming of Age in Second Life (pp. 118-150). Oxford: Princeton University Press.
Gee, J. P. (2003). Learning and Identity: What does it mean to be half-elf? In What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy (pp. 51-71). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Where am I? Somewhere in-between?

Clark* explored what am ‘I’ and how technology can redefine who we are. In his piece ‘Where am I?’ Dennett** fictionalised the philosophical quandary of where the ‘self’ resides. Is it in the brain – Yorick? Is it in the body -Hamlet? Or is it elsewhere? Can we create an AI self, like Hubert?

When his brain and his body are ‘severed’ he recognises that ‘he’ is both inside the vat where his brain is stored and outside of it too. We exist in at least two places concurrently: corporeally and cognitively. And cognitively we can range, explore, be ‘elsewhere’.

Greenhalgh and Spenser*** explore how the binary between the corporeal and the virtual has defined discussions and debates about traditional and online education. ‘Skeptics of online education’ they claim, ‘ have argued that online education is anti-real, anti-embodiment, anti-expertise, and anti-human.’ (p.315) They claim that a false binary has been established between f-2-f education and online education and that, instead, we should recognise ‘the possibility of hybridity, flow, simultaneity, and in-between-ness’ (p.315).

This is ‘where we are’ when we are online: we are somewhere ‘in-between’; we are Hamlet and Yorick and Hubert and more simultaneously. And we are creating that ‘self’ too.

Geenhalgh and Spenser go on to highlight Jenkins and Castells’ observation that ‘the digital sphere is reliant on human connections and linkage; reliant on spreading into multiple online and real world contexts, in order to stay relevant’. Successful technologies, they argue, ‘must link spaces, knowledges and people into relationships’ (p.318):



In terms of technologies which ‘augment’ ‘real-life’ experience, they highlight geo-caching, Strava and Google Glasses and they pose a challenge for edtech:


This is a germane challenge and one which, in my field of school technologies, is already being taken up. One school Yearbook which I worked on has within it augmented reality content: scan some of the content with your device and you are presented with voices, videos and animations which augment the printed text. I’ve also worked with schools to use the fabric of their buildings, the physical space, to generate virtual AR content. So, we have a science ‘murder mystery’ hunt which starts with the students scanning their seemingly empty school hall to reveal the prone figure of their murdered Headmaster. They must they follow the virtual reality clues to uncover the identity of the murderer. Many schools are now using QR codes and AR to bring their physical spaces to life, to add layers of digital content and information to the fabric of their learning spaces. Smart-signage is being introduced which knows who is looking at it – Year 7? Teacher? Parent? – and adjusts the content accordingly. Feedback and marking can be transformed through digital layering; when I was teaching a group of Year 8s with low literacy levels a few years ago, I didn’t provide written feedback; rather, they were provided with a QR code which linked to video content of me talking through their work for them. This had much more impact on their performance than written feedback.

These hybrid experiences are powerful and it is encouraging to see also the increasing use of Google Cardboard and 3D content within classrooms. However, these advances are, as yet, nascent and specific. Generalised adoption of such innovation requires, as Greenhalgh and Spenser note, boldness and imagination. Might it be that Zuckerberg’s Oculus or Nadella’s HoloLens bring the required impetus?

*Clark, A. (2003). Natural born cyborgs: minds, technologies and the future of human intelligence, Oxford: OUP chapter 1, ‘Cyborgs unplugged‘, pp.13-34
**Dennett, D.  (1981). Chapter 13:  Where am I?.  From Hofstadter, D. and Dennett, D. (eds) The Mind’s I:  Fantasies and Reflections on Self and Soul.  Penguin Press:   London.
*** Greenhalgh-Spencer, H., (2014). What Technology Reveals: Countering Binaries and Moving Toward the In-Between. Philosophy of Education Archive, pp.315–323.