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Identity: Re-inventing yourself one post at a time

Hiatus over. Sometimes you need to stop the inertia that keeps you going without questioning. What I've been up to and, most importantly, what triggered it is subject for another post. Here I just want to say that coming back from the hiatus is easier when your friends unite in conversation about a topic that interests me a lot: identity.

The virtual meeting is at David Truss' blog post: Blurred Identity Lines. The words that trigger my thinking have to do with something I know David believes, since he had many times expressed so in tweets. Something along the lines that meeting f2f or seeing each other's portrait is not a condition to build these connections. It has not been our case, at least.
I tried to summerize that idea in my comment on his blog.
"David, you’re probably the closest person to my thinking that meeting f2f is something that needn’t happen to make connections. I would like to extend that thought. I think that it would be rather limiting to think that the only meaningful connections to our learning and weaving the fabric of our beings are the ones who we might meet f2f one day. The world is too large to leave so many people and their uniqueness outside."
The expression "the fabric of our beings" is David's. Isn't that plain beautiful? (Warning: I suffer from an instant adoption of that expression). We are weaving a fabric one post at a time. It doesn't matter where, it could well be face to face. The point is that learners like us are into building that fabric, which needs the connections to happen.

An aside to these thoughts. Perhaps a word of warning. I'm not saying meeting f2f is not necessary or not as valuable as it is. I'm saying that online encounters for people who are committed to learning is revealing new aspects of identity building I would not have associated with Internet before. I mean, to the vast majority of f2f people and friends not connected to my profession leaving all or most of our interactions to online spaces or text messages is a sign not to overlook. When meeting f2f or a phone call has a local cost, not doing so is a red flag that tells me we are not that close friends. If I think about my adolescent students, their constant distractions with the mobile phones in class, the overload of importance (and amount of thinking) given to a text message from a significant other can make me shudder. However, this post is about people committed to keep in touch, not merely relying on lazy forms of near synchronous communication. It's about making a large word smaller. It's about drawing materials for the fabric of our identity with a far wider freedom of sources. That's what's new; that's what we have never been able to do before in the days prior to the Internet. I think it's worth exploring what it entails and enables.

Now, I believe David Truss and Alan Levine are attracted to another twist of the same topic: being one, being yourself, no matter where the connection is made. Alan would say (see his comment) he is one Alan everywhere. Of course not all of Alan goes online. Privacy always exist, but he has been able to do away with pre-conceptions that being whoever you are depends on context -offline or online as if it were another place.

For me, "going online" has been somewhat similar to becoming a citizen of another country. Not a new place, but a country -or more precisely a culture- I had been studying for years while becoming a teacher of English. College does not guarantee you'll get some aspects of a culture blended into the fabric of your being. Many teachers of English I know would never "feel" the language in the same way as your mother tongue. But for me, I started having a voice online in English; it was much later that I started blogging in Spanish. I do change the topics I blog about when I shift languages. If you think translating them is easy since I am the writer as well as translator, you might as well delude yourself. Nothing is as difficult as translating words passionately written. A language is not a tool. Translation has limiting effects; there are what we call degrees of translatability and localization of the message to a different culture in an audience. Just as in friendship, are you sharing and being in exaclty the same way with each and everyone of your friends? See? Those are translated versions of yourself at work.

A language change is to your identity development something quite close to choosing connections which are outside your echo chamber. A comfort stretch exercise. Do it or not, it's your own choice and peril. Once you "speak" that new language from your heart, you need interlocutors. Isolation of important aspects of who you are, and what you believe in is death to the development of that richness within you. In a nutshell, don't try to learn a language if you are not going to have significant people around who would interact in it as a preferred means of communication. Same goes for ideas about education: you need context and people to make them flourish, people who share your learning direction, not the findings. Even if you don't do a project together, even if you never meet face to face these people are very important. I can say no one in my staffroom except Gabriela Sellart understood fully what my blog writing implies. I could have never become so clear about what I believe without interlocutors who take me further. That's the value of blogging and connecting to me. The essence is in those shared values and directions, not in meeting face to face.

I know it sounds harsh when I say it so bluntly. Allow me to go back to the word of warning above and extend that idea. Think of this scenario: your daughter has a boyfriend who only texts her, but doesn't see her much. Wouldn't you clearly see something is not committed there? Wouldn't you feel like advising your daughter there is so much more imaginary stuff than a real thing potential in that relationship? Sounds like short lasted, right? You'd probably agree with me that text, chat or other forms of communication are a nice I've-been-thinking-about-you message to support a well founded f2f relationship.

I argue that the opposite happens online for committed learners. Why is that possible? Because in the day-to-day flow of so many bureocratic aspects of teaching, complying with syllabuses and the like, we have lost the disposition to have reflective conversations in the staffroom, which has turned into quick plastic cup coffee places and the odd catharsis about being occassionaly feeling overwhelmed by the profession and parent's or manager's misunderstanding of our job. We make friends out of sharing some circumstances, but not out of shaping together our most valued beliefs. Blogs are not immune to trivia exposing, but let's be realistic: who would spend time writing, transcribing those mundane staffroom conversations or let alone reading them? We are too lazy to create that noise online. Besides, writing is permanent. People may quote you. So when teachers write, we tend to have something to say or we go hiatus.

To build relationships over online spaces as a primary means of communication takes time. I don't know if more or less than physical spaces (I can't bring myself to use the word "real" spaces). I think it might take as much time because it is more relative to how aware you are about what you are after, how much you know yourself and how much meaning you ascribe to isolated words as opposed to words supported by consistency of previous blog posts, transparency about how you got there, etc. Writing about learning as a profession complicates it, because our "business" is change, innovate, then expand and change a bit more. In my case, dedicating so much effort to sharing my self teaching photography and dealing with issues of identity now has made me shift the topics in my writing and it most definitely made me lose contact with teachers who want fun activities or ideas for their lessons. Everything has a price, right?

If you are more "practically minded", I mean, if you set out to write a blog to make connections who might end up collecting partners around a f2f project or collaborate from a distance on a regular basis, then of course, all my talk about thinking and reflecting with online friends sounds too much bohemia to spend your time on. But with that criteria, why ask your students to read a short story by an author who is dead and will never interact with your students via Skype when there are so many authors alive? I wouldn't miss reading Shakespeare because I need a translation of bits of his language, understand his composition and poetic rules and know some historical facts to fully appreciate what I am reading. How could I say diversity is important in front of a student if I am not willing to go the distance to Shakespeare's context? How can we say our blogs are global just because they are online?

Speed of connections as well as instant publications make you think you can get wherever you need and learn instantly all the time or make a thousand friendships with so many followers on Twitter. Mind you, important learning, great ideas and good relationships still take a lot of time. Internet hasn't changed things much there.

I'll remind myself to do the hiatus again sometime. It's a sanity check of my ideas, of myself. I once was told I should care about my online "reputation" and post more often. For those who blog on as if they ran a business or promote it, as if they sold themselves to be called to presentations and build a reputation, it will be hard to grasp what I am trying to say about forging and identity, a presence and from there, build your relationships to end up with a nice fabric of ideas you can rely on. I don't expect to do this with thousands of people. A number that would seat around a good Argentinean coffee table will suffice for me.

Photo by me, at a café in Monserrat neighbourhood http://www.flickr.com/photos/yet-one-more-pic/5351561825/

If you get the habit of speaking, shaping your thoughts and revealing the process online as a natural thing to do (i.e you blog), then, only then, I think something magical happens. There is a you that exists (or was born) online and that not all of the people in your face to face world know about. More dramatically put, they wouldn't care to know about. In a previous post on identity I framed the question in a way my friends Alan and David have considered significant.
"Let me ask you once again: Who are you when you write online? Think of it conversely. The offline-only people in your lives who have never ever cared to read what you passionately write about, who do they actually know?"
Don't get me wrong. Don't rule out the f2f people who would not read your blog! Go inwards and ask yourself where you choose to reveal what and how to imbue each space you live in with the nature you've acquired in the other.

There you have some learning exercise to spend a lifetime to master.

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I hope you have a nice day! Very good article, well written and very thought out. I am looking forward to reading more of your posts in the future.

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