Fairly recently, Facebook has developed the ‘Memories’ function. On a daily basis it digs up and notifies you of your Facebook activity from that particular day over years past, dating as far back as to the day you joined Facebook. For me, this recent addition to the Facebook personal storytelling repertoire has acted as a ‘clean house’ mechanism. By that I mean I usually take one look at the idiocy I deemed okay to post online ten years ago and, as fast as I can, hit delete. I do this because, well, for a start there’s the embarrassment – what I find funny and intelligent has changed a frightening amount over the course of ten years – but also because it’s no longer who I am, what I said ten years ago no longer fits in with the persona I wish to portray online (or anywhere else).
What is the online self and what do we do with it?
Erving Goffman once likened the human portrayal of public personae as being like a theatre performance: we are all actors wishing to portray a particular image, to make it believable and real. We have front stage and back stage behaviors, when an actor is front stage his speech, actions and decisions are carefully crafted and executed to convince the audience that he is the character he tries to portray (Goffman, 1990). Goffman made these observations before the current technological boom, however the principles of his arguments are still significantly relevant in a world where everything can be done online, as Bullingham and Vasconcelos argue in their article: ‘The presentation of self in the online world’ - that our online persona is merely another form of front stage behavior (Bullingham/Vasconcelos, 2013).
With all this in mind, online identity comes across as another form of stage upon which a person can build an image. Though, while such image crafting used to exclusively rely upon things one did and said in person, all that’s required now is a keyboard and an internet connection. People have online platforms, they can use pictures, articles, videos, links, blog posts, etc. to do the fueling, and it requires minimal effort. Paul Longley Arthur describes online identities as being “easility manipulated at any time by the individual subject” and that it is “changing the way we see ourselves” (Arthur, 2009). With all the platforms now available, a person is free to be pretty much whoever they choose to be online. The image can be as close to or as far away from the reality as they wish.
Fast forward ten years, I’m thirty-one and a teacher living abroad, cringing at my Facebook memory notifications on a daily basis. My online persona has mercifully changed along with me. Where it used to be entirely social - a means for me to desperately craft an image to compensate for my lack of a real life one - my approach now is different, far more strategic, far less obnoxious (I hope).
Facebook is still alive and well, but where I used to be actively vocal, writing status update after status update in an attempt to be witty, I now use it as a means to profile my travel activities and to keep tabs on the lives of my friends back home in order to stay in the loop (who’s getting married/splitting up/pregnant?). My Instagram account acts as an extension of this, a photographic chronicle of my travel adventures. These two platforms exist solely for social purposes and show a far more subdued persona in comparison to that of ten years ago. I am still attempting to portray my ‘best self’, buy cherry picking the right snapshots of my life: the achievements, the moments of happiness.
Is it real? Well, partly. No one sees the moments of overwhelming homesickness, the struggles with mental health or the unsuccessful teaching moments. It’s merely real in the sense that I’m putting forward the parts of me that I’m happy to show, giving them the bare minimum of written narrative, and simply letting the content speak for itself. Socially, it’s my ‘best self’, it’s the portrayal of a teacher who lives abroad. It’s inoffensive and, as always, so very easy.
Showing off on Twitter
Then there is the professional side of things: my Twitter account and my Weebly. This side seems to be the road less traveled as the active portrayal of my professional self online is something that I’ve only recently began to explore. My chosen platforms act as an extension of my professional life as an educator and, recently, a learner. As an international teacher my Twitter operates as a means of networking with with other international schools and educational organisations around the world. As recent as a few weeks ago, I tweeted a photo of my students using Minecraft to study area, the post was liked by Minecraft themselves, much to the delight of my students. On the other hand, my Weebly is a newly started blog intended to portray my life as an international educational educator, to profile life in the classroom and the experiences (good and bad) or working abroad in an international school. This gives me the opportunity to speak in a lot more detail, to craft an image of professionalism, of the career of a teacher from a unique perspective.
1. Goffman E. 1990, The Presentation of self in everyday life, Random House, London.
2. Bullingham L, Vasconcelos A, 2013.The Presentation of self in the online world, Sage Publishing, Thousand Oaks.
3. Arthur P, 2009. “Digital Biography: Capturing Lives Online.” a/b: Auto/Bioggraphy Studies 24, no. 1 (Summer): 74-92.
Greater Online Activity:
This week's studies have seen me introduced to a new term: produsage - a term coined to describe the function of the modern day concept of Web 2.0, the idea that the roles of the consumer and producer (once isolated from one another via a very firmly drawn line in the sand) have now been blurred. The old method of media being dictated to us by industries, controlled and delegated by powers-that-be, purchased by the consumer - but not in any way controlled by them - has now become, for want of a better word, obsolete.
Why have the product fed to us by faceless corporations when we - the common people - can take control? That's about the most layman-like way I could interpret it - a foundation or series of foundations where us, the people, collaborate on and contribute to ongoing sources of media. There's no boss, no owner, participation is open to all, and the development is forever ongoing, with existing content being built upon and constantly improved.
Who needs a published encyclopedia when we can contribute to and collaborate through Wikipedia? Why write a letter to the editor when we can Tweet at a politician or a celebrity, voice out thoughts in 140 characters or less, leaving open the possibility of being Tweeted back by them?
We live in a world where people can share photos of their own cats and see them ascend to celebrity or meme status. A world where we can upload videos of ourselves saying pretty much whatever the hell we want, where someone from the other side of the globe can see these videos and comment on them. A world where two people who aren't even sitting in the same room and collaborate on a piece of fan fiction, hit the publish button and watch as it develops its own niche fan base.
The people have more control than they have ever had. Technology is more accessible than it's every been. Screens are everywhere, there's an app for everything and if there isn't, a kid with an idea and a respectable amount of tech savvy can see himself getting rich off the creation of one.
This can be viewed as a magical thing, and I've found it an immensely thought provoking concept in light of Week 2's other required 'reading'.
Black Mirror seems to be a real thing at the moment. Everyone is talking about it. It seems to have surpassed The Wire as THAT show which has everyone saying: "Hey, have you seen The Wire?"
I'd only seen one other episode (I tend to be a little bit resistant and stubborn when it comes to having a TV show recommended to me by literally goddamned everyone stop it OMG seriously), but that one episode ('San Junipero' - a little more uplifting than the one I'm about to talk about) I ABSOLUTELY loved. And I had similar feelings about this one: 'Fifteen Million Merits'. What a great show THANK YOU FOR RECOMMENDING IT EVERYONE, I LOVE YOU!
The episode hit home in several ways.
Firstly, the whole portrayal of a world completely and wholly consumed by screens and technology was way too real (I've previously mentioned my own struggles with the screen). We meet a protagonist living in a universe where literally everything is ruled by the screen. The screen is the first thing he - and everyone else - sees when upon waking (there's a reason I no longer charge my phone on my bedside table). Humans are drably dressed, soulless robots who spend their days mindlessly peddling away before a screen portraying a false world of animation. People select and craft their image and appearance from a menu in order to suit how they wish to be portrayed. Creativity and passion seem to be non-existent and any sort of minute manifestation of either is stamped out, filtered and presented in a way that suits 'the machine'. Throughout all this, large portions of the dead-eyed population dreams of fame and fortune.
It's a pessimistic representation of the worst possible outcome of technological takeover. Technology's current causes of worry, taken to the absolute extreme. Some might call it over-generalization, though I like to think of it as a possible scenario, a piece of art to be considered. Today's international current events have seen a number of classic artworks - works which, at the time of creation, were seen as the potential, dystopian outcome of a future gone wrong - start to seem a little more documentary-like than many of us are comfortable with them being.
With all these thoughts out of the way, the episode got me thinking about some other things. Namely the way it connects to the idea of produsage - a concept that is supposed to fuel collaboration, a concept that is aimed at driving away the tyrannical hand of industries and corporations and giving the power of the media back to the people.
Technology has played an integral part in the development of such a concept, an integral part in allowing anyone, anywhere to become involved in something big if they so choose.
Right now we life in a world rich with examples of produsage.
And then I look at the world portrayed in 'Fifteen Million Merits'. A world where technology is everywhere and it has swallowed the human soul and sucked it dry of all things beautiful and real. A world where everything available to the people living in it - be it stimulation, physical activity and even food - has been broken down, categorized, controlled and served up in portions, all of which cost the fictional inhabitants money.
To me, it screams industry, it screams corporation, it screams everything that we've used technology in the present to advance beyond, the only difference being that in the world of 'Fifteen Million Merits', technology is obnoxiously present.
Something which has the power and potential to harvest creativity and innovation has been reduced to something every bit as bland and lifeless as the grey tracksuits worn by the episode's characters.
Could this be a potential future for produsage, though? Powers-that-be rising up and putting a muzzle on all that wonderful potential and somehow - once again, like the show's characters - we're too blinded by the presence of the screen to see it coming?
I'm not even really sure how this would happen, that kind of thinking is a bit beyond my capabilities, but I feel that maybe, just maybe, 'Fifteen Million Merits' could serve as something of a message: we have ourselves a pretty powerful gift, let's stay awake, let's stay passionate, let's stay creative, let's use these powers for good.
'Hey, he stole my idea!'
If you're a teacher, you've heard this line before - a lot. Thomas raises their hand and gives the exact same answer Frankie was planning to give. Archer sitting across the room just happens to have also written a story set in space and Benjamin isn't happy. Anita has used similar colors on her art project to Rhiannon. Scowls are thrown around and it's pandemonium in the classroom.
When this happens, I usually use it as a springboard to an important discussion. Firstly, making a point of clarifying that a fact is not an idea, and that someone else also knowing the answer to the math problem doesn't qualify as theft, but also, and more importantly, the difference between stealing someone's work and being inspired by it. Taking the blueprint to someone else's creation - whether intentional or not - and using it to make an entirely different and unique other creation which stands on it's own.
I've long wanted to begin and maintain a blog. I like to write (I try to do so almost daily). I like to think (I do this a little too much). I like to share my experiences (particularly after a few drinks).
Somehow none of this has never translated into launching a blog. A tidy, easily accessible place to collect my meandering ramblings.
Call it being intimidated by any sort of social media requiring more effort than Facebook or Instagram do, but it never materialized and for that, I'm regretful.
In the last 2 weeks, I've recommenced study - having been slowing progressing online through a Grad Dip in Professional Writing and Editing - throwing myself head on into a Trimester of Blogging and Online Communication, a subject that encourages us to really take control of our online profile. And, much like the Thomases, the Archers and the Anitas of the beginning paragraph, I've found myself inspired by one of my course-mates.
Taking the tech heavy message of the unit to heart, he created a blog to share his thoughts on the subject - a Weebly, no less. Reading it and seeing the skill with which he had presented it (it damn well looked professional), I initially found myself feeling intimidated. I quickly overcame this when I also remembered one of the other messages of the subject, as championed by course leader Adam Brown - you have to start somewhere, you will get better if you practice.
With that in mind, I'm taking the plunge. Thank you Tom for the inspiration and setting of a standard to me to aspire to. I can only hope that my interpretation of the idea can stand on it's own.
So with this blog, I'm going to post...well, just about anything, while the overarching goal is to share heavily about my career in international education, I also want a place to talk about the other things that make up my life.
So here's some thoughts on the content of Week 1.
DISCLAIMER: I'm prone to tangents.
The focus of the readings has been the arrival of the Media Studies 2.0 model in the world of communications, effectively nixing the old elitist approach of Media Studies 1.0.
The point and goal of Media Studies 2.0 seems to be the creation of a world where the people are making & sharing resources individually and collaboratively. It's hands on, it's do-it-yourself, and its accessible not just an elite few, but to everyone.
As a teacher, the part about sharing collaboratively resonated loudly with me.
Education is an industry where sharing and collaboration these days are the norm. Teachers, particularly in large schools - my own position being no exception - work in teams. Creative minds from all walks of life coming together and throwing a wealth of ideas on the table.
Once upon a time this would've involved a lot of painstaking stenciling and laminating, a lot of hoarding and limited storage space.
Now, sharing and collaborating means placing your resources into a Google Drive and inviting your coworkers to collaborate. Click of a mouse and your coworker's resources are your own.
It's certainly an industry where the teacher who chooses to close their door, isolate themselves from their coworkers and play the lone wolf game, as if they were Mad Max, don't find themselves winning any popularity contests - particularly with their superiors. We are all united by the same goal - the education of children. In that respect, there is no race, there is no competition, every teacher everywhere should have the opportunity to educate their students to the best of their abilities using the best available resources.
So the subject has me asking myself about online collaboration from a vocational point of view.
Am I doing enough?
This time last year I attended a tech conference at the American School in Milan. It was one of the most inspiring moments of professional development I have ever experienced, as it pushed the idea of the power of tech in education. The power of resources like blogs, like Twitter. The available opportunities to collaborate not just with our coworkers, but with teachers on the other side of the planet.
It also opens up a whole can of worms with students too. They too could network around the world. A student in Muscat could have their work appreciated by a student in Shanghai whom they've never met.
Social media is is super highway of ideas and inspiration that can add so much weight to what you do.
This last week, I've fired back up my Twitter, shared a post or two chronicling classroom adventures, and slapped a few hashtags on there. No bites yet, but persistence - I imagine - is the key.
This brings me to the course discussion question of the week that I really wanted to discuss.
My thoughts on social media. Do I identify more with a dystopian or utopian view?
Well, I'll be first to admit that I can see the problem, that I'm directly affected by the problem. I'll come clean right here.
*STANDS UP* 'Ahem...Hi, I'm Aaron and I'm a social media addict.'
And not the kind I should be. Not the creative, ambitious, blogging and networking kind. No! I'll spend hours accomplishing nothing on Facebook, check my Snapchat as you try to have a conversation with me and internally rage when I can't get reception enough to refresh my Instagram.
This is a fully fledged problem that I believe often keeps me from reaching my true potential (all that writing I could be getting done, all that stunted creativity), not to mention how rude I must appear sometimes.
It's a problem that I've taken to remedying by locking my phone away for hours at a time, just plain refusing to touch it. With a little extra willpower, it seems to be working. Though the thing that scares me is the difference. The amount of brain power, concentration, creativity and motivation that has magically returned since I forced myself under control is a scary thought. All this potential for accomplishment that was being locked away. My distraction was slowly killing me and I find it a little unsettling to consider the way it must affect others, the way it will affect people in years to come.
(I was going to take a moment to discuss the Black Mirror episode '15 Million Merits' that was required viewing for week 2 of the subject, but I'll save that for another post)
So having said that, you're probably thinking that I lean towards dystopian, right?
Well, no. I simply cannot.
Returning to the conference in Milan, I am reminded of a story told by one of the keynote speaks (and a treasured coworker of mine). Coming from an Italian family, he described the experiences of his great grandfather as he immigrated to the USA ahead of his family in hopes of a better life. It was over a year before his wife and children were able to join him, and during that time, their love was kept alive by way of mail, with letters taking weeks to reach their destination. They survived it though, despite the immense challenge.
Fast forward many decades to my coworker meeting the woman who would go on to become his own wife. Having to spend a period of time abroad from one another, my coworker was able to push a button on his iPhone and, within seconds, be looking at the face and listening to the voice of the love of his life.
This is a beautiful thing, and while I do see the dangers technology poses for it, it's difficult to imagine a more positive argument for the advancement of technology than the fact that it makes love possible.
I live away from my family. I like to travel. As well as living in Oman, I've also lived in London. My closest friends and family are spread out across the globe, and I absolutely LOVE that I can speak to them whenever I choose (timezones permitting). I love that I can Skype my parents every weekend. I love that I can return home during summer and not be surprised by how different everyone is, but the appearance of new babies, new partners, new jobs, new lives.
A well traveled older relative of mine told me that the hardest part about living overseas is that you tend to fall out of touch with everyone. They traveled before social media was a thing. Unfortunately (fortunately?), this is a sentiment that, thanks to the reach of the world wide web, I am unable to share.
Social media keeps me in the loop, it makes being a citizen of the world easier.
Social media and technology is like any sort of power. It can do good or harm.
I pray that I continue to have the will power to update this blog more than I spend checking my phone at dinner.
This is my blog, there are many like it, but this one is mine.
Okay, so I had to start somewhere. And while this is my first post, I feel like it is barely holding back a tsunami of backlogged ideas and thoughts.
I've long wanted to start a blog to share insight into what I do and why I love it.
Nearly two years ago, I accepted a job at The American International School of Muscat in the Sultanate of Oman, leaving behind my cushy, safe, long time job in a Melbourne public school. It was a roll of the dice that has brought me happiness and life satisfaction beyond anything I could've dreamed, and in the unlikeliest of places - I knew nothing of Oman when I accepted the job.
My experience doing what I do is one I've wanted to share from day one, I want to share every turn and dip of the rollercoaster, tell my story if you'd like to hear it. Yet, it's taken me until now to actually put things into motion.
I consider myself moderately tech savvy - a teacher has to be to survive - but, if I'm being honest, my technology capabilities still remain a harbour of untapped potential. I don't blog because I'm surrounded by people that do it better than me. I don't tweet because I'm surrounded by people that do it better than me. So on the backburner in remained...
As mentioned in my little mini bio, I'm also an aspiring scribbler. My interest has led me to the part time study of a Graduate Diploma of Professional Writing & Editing at Deakin University. Trucking along, I found myself in a subject called Blogging and Online Communications. Through it, I seem to have found the fire needed to actually step up, start this and - hopefully, so hopefully - maintain it.