Saturday, March 24, 2012

Identity Revisited

I won't play around this. So let me say it straight: I simply want you to watch this 15' video.

If you don't have the time, or rather, you *think* you don't, then read my post,which is loaded with the hope you will watch that video later.

The story goes back to 2007, but given the fragmentary nature of snippets of writing spread all over the Internet, I am confident to say that this post could well make sense without too much background.

What is more, it could even be worth it without a reader. I actually write this to make sense of my fledgeling thoughts around the experience of meeting people online.

If I had to be precise, I would say it was Alan's post linking to my post where we truly first met (see comments there). What happened to me the day I read his post was very similar to what happens to me now after watching that video.

At the same time, the immediate reaction after watching it was a mental link to a lesson I taught the day before yesterday as well as something I've read in the (online) paper this morning.

The image of one of my students came to mind as I watched. He has heard me speaking in class about RSS readers and blogging and tweeting making email quite a basic and moderate technology compared to all that powerful combo. You can imagine what I was talking about, but the point is his eyes and body language were showing uneasiness until he bursted:

"Oh you are a geek. I hate social networks".

The evangelizer in me was about to go on a rage of passionate thoughts about my online experiences, but fortunately I said nothing there and then. After all, my student had already declared war to Internet possibilities without any prior experience -good or bad or indifferent- to account for it.

Why my link to all this? Because I wonder about the people who do not share the same experiences of the web. People who have never read and felt deeply moved by Jabiz or Gardner also mentioned in the video. What do they understand from Alan's keynote?

What I wonder is, can meaning be made without a prior connection to those people mentioned there? I am sure the intended audience of the video -the Flat Classroom people- already have an idea of who Alan is, probably they've read a post or two of his and heard wonders about him from Vicky and Julie.

Probably someone is now clicking on my blog, not because I am who I am, but because I am who I became for Alan, whom they "know" already.

Two sides to this coin: how to express this concept of Digital Selves and how to grasp it.

Whenever I need to teach (whatever that entails) any skeptical student about being yourself online, I am faced with that feeling of being in a prison I'd call "wordless". Talking about these elusive concepts emerging from my online experiences, I know I simply go around the idea, but I do not always hit it. On the other hand, I am glad there are good storytellers out there who can summarize it in 15 minutes of video, from the experience of loss and receiving my email to the concept of a Personal Cyberinfrastructure. As you can guess, that's not an easy story to tell. Talk about literacy.

I said my thoughts also linked to the paper this morning. I read an article about the Malvinas/Falkland conflict. There was an online, perhaps via Skype, communication from a bar in Buenos Aires with another bar on the Islands. People, not governmental authorities, but ordinary people voiced their feelings about the most controversial issues around the conflict. In spite of the tension of the dialogue, some agreed both our cultures love spending time with friends at a pub. An Argentinean war veteran sympathized with a woman who lost her husband in the 1982 war as she still feels hurt. Neither of them knows the feelings at that moment had been foreshadowed by Thomas Hardy's poem long ago:
"Yes, quaint and curious war is!
You shoot a fellow down
You'd treat, if met where any bar is,
Or help to half a crown."

Would a war have taken place if people had been able to talk online like this 30 years ago? A participant in that conversation said that it will be difficult to solve the conflict while there are people who remember the war, who suffered the consequences and have too many emotions around it. It'll take new generations freer from the pain to really have some dialogue. And that's what I link to my feelings after the video. Alan made me play a big role in his story. I am so moved I write this right after watching -still exploring my thoughts about it. So how can I be the one to have distance enough to make sense of this for the audience of my blog or for my students? Can I? Really?

It seems incomprehensible for those who dread the idea of being online. But then again, Nicholas, who is online, is far too negative about it.

I'll try.

A bit of fresh air

After watching the video today I felt something very similar to what I had felt when I first read/met Alan. It was the first link to my blog, I think. Definitely the first meaningful link. Because Alan had expressed how my idea triggered his thoughts and he developed it with a graph and all. I thought: he is teaching me what blogging means. There is a learning conversation starting here. This is good.

But now, five years on, I see that he was not just modeling what blogging means. He was reiforcing a blogging direction I had already taken. I was *becoming* a blogger. And this is the point: One thing is to simply read and get informed, perhaps learn something, and quite another is to become, to expand who you are. To revisit your identity.

Yes, quaint and curious the Internet is.

How else could it have happened? I mean, I had been reading blogs and seeing people linking to each other by then for sure. Yet that had been reading, not becoming. Blogging can be a loss of time to the outsiders while it feels perfect time spent to the bloggers. It's magic. We are so positive about it, but blogging just doesn't happen unless you make friends, folks.

We are who we are because of those people who care to read and react, let their hearts rage a little with your words and then -this is key- they *do* something about it. Maybe write a blog post, tweet, shoot a photo or edit a video. Even if they feel overwhelmed by your words, they do not comment as fans, but as friends sitting with you at the same coffee place. Only then you can go back to writing emails that make more sense that the ones you used to write before these open writing experiences.

I am so grateful to every reader who has been touched by my words. My voice, my digital self reaching out here to you has grown on echoes of all of them. There are so many potential friendships out there. It's just so much more than I can express.

So do go and watch that video, OK?

It's a video in which I have had the surprise of unexpectedly meeting face to face with a meaningful part of who I am.

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