Extension of Identity in Social Media Learning

It is a necessary approach in understanding media and technology to realize that when the spell of the gimmick or an extension of our bodies is new, there comes narcosis or numbing to the newly amplified area.

So, what area does Social Media make numb?

First, to comment on the word new. Social Media is certainly new, and my interpretation of the word is that it implies at least a generational attachment. To acquire a technology at some point during a lifetime is much different than to grow up in a world with that technology. Some people may handle a new technology better than others, but this numbing concerns a society of users as a whole. What the quote suggests is a sort of Central Nervous System knee-jerk paralysis of the area that is extended by a new technology. The impact of the medium propels people out to extreme positions, cleansing and forsaking the area that is extended.

To answer the question above is difficult, as I am very much a part of the generation that acquired Social Media. My initial analysis is that the area has to do with the ego, or some sort self-reflection function in ourselves. We gain a sense of our bodies by projecting our limbs out into the physical world like a newborn, to one day catch a glimpse of our fingers with the epiphany that they are actually a part of us, available for our control. Our more abstract sense of identity projects out into society, testing reaction to see who we are and what we might be. What Social Media does is to glaze these feedback loops. Maybe the best answer I can come up with it is that with Social Media, our sense of self-identity is numbed.

In the Social Media age, with digital conquering distance, it is an understatement to say that there’s a lot of noise out there. Like being at a large festival and trying to yell something at the general crowd, hoping for an answer back, so is Social Media. The noise of the online crowd is amplified to include anyone connected and positioned to not listen. Even when reaction does happen, it stripped of the overflowing, rounded information rich social interaction of our non-digitally mediated social context. People have the potential to communicate with their eyes, their bodies and in their decisions about who to spend their time with and where. Social Media doesn’t need this rich communication to produce its most alluring benefit: being able to direct communication and form communities at amazing speeds and precision. Our Social Media extended identities are comprised of and subject to tags and counts.

These tags and counts are what allow for the speed and focus of communication in Social Media, and without such media, our identity lacks the pressure of refinement. The delay and distance that we normally use to sort through the communication process creates a need for deliberation and self-reflection. This is where our current numbness comes from. Our old method of defining ourselves is flash frozen, slowly thawing as it readjusts to a new environment, looking for a niche in the instantaneous Social Media world.

We don’t reflect on our identity in Social Media interaction because there is only response and not. Tagged or not. There is nothing to think about. It simply represents us online. It gives us great mobility and ability to cluster, but on matters of identity it also numbs our human interpretation of the full social intercourse of talking, greeting, planning and meeting. Deliberation between these types of actions in our non-mediated social world is something that has emerged as part of our consciousness over the past 2000 plus years since the technology of writing developed. Writing and distance took the oral communication that surrounded us and afforded us the ability to pause, to think deeply about messages as it lay waiting in the printed word or until the next social encounter drawn across daily life. Humans were no longer immersed in the instantaneous of it, but rather afforded the time and space to reflect who we are. Social Media brings back the instantaneous of socializing.

Technologies are not mere exterior aids but also interior transformations of consciousness, and never more than when they affect the word. Such transformations can be uplifting…Alienation from a natural milieu can be good for us and indeed is in many ways essential for full human life. To live and understand fully, we need not only proximity but also distance.

One’s relationship with oneself, or self-reflection, is an essential aspect of learning, and the ultimate origin of intent in the educational process. We all see ourselves from a select point of view, this viewpoint being neither full nor complete, but having access to parts of our selves that other relationships do not. The Social Media identity, initially and on the surface, makes little room for this relationship. I don’t doubt that the room will eventually open up. There is no benefit in discarding the gifts of what print communication has given us, only to revert back to the psyche of pre-writing technology while possessing ability, and deliberation skills, to combine the merits of both.

As for right now…is Social Media specifically not for the introverted?

Inherent in terms like Social Media, Connectivism and Networking is an emphasis on socializing and the external. And, to be introverted does not mean nil social activity, but only less than what a common standard might be. However, strategies for Social Media learning do tend to direct socializing towards high levels, or maximization. An example is some of the introductory MOOC participation strategies for the change11. As well, this neglect can also be seen in a landmark Distance Education article like Anderson’s Modes of Interaction that provides foundation for theory on today’s Social Media learning boom, but also fails to include any type of Student/Self relationship among the mix. I often also think of a loose Uncertainty Principle when it comes to dialog: conversations that are observed or measured are somehow altered by that observation, being of a different nature than conversation detached from an audience. This is one aspect that bothers me about my current program at a distance – I have never really appreciated forum participation as part of the grading scheme. More often than not, it just seems like unauthentic discussion.

The two questions posed in this post can hopefully help to clear room for self-reflective identity in Social Media learning. I have been thinking a bit about this and came up with a list of ideas that might work for more introverted minded MOOC participants. It is just a quick list based on my own tendencies. These points may not suit all learners, but for someone like me, who has as much interest hanging out in groups and circles online as I do offline, it may be part of a best strategy. I’m sure there could be a lot changed about or added to this list:

  • Set large scale goals. Initially staying limited to general topics and areas will allow me a lot of room to change and adapt, and to dwell on ideas.
  • Declaring and join sparingly. We all have different views on what is important; but at least I should consider any projection as noise or not.
  • Realize that many people are in it for the tags and counts. An introverted approach to a MOOC will probably downplay this aspect, thus affecting the type of connections I attract and networks around me.
  • Base connections in email and comments, and other asynchronous Social Media. The people who respond in this way will be better suited in communication style.
  • Turn comments off. I haven’t tried this, but wonder about the idea. A message stating that any feedback is welcome via email or reader’s own blogs, may encourage deeper, more thoughtful responses and more suitable connections in my network.
  • Ignore the time-line of the MOOC. Well, for the most part. A weekly schedule is far too quick for me, so I’m trying to look ahead while letting ideas simmer a bit on topics that interest me. Luckily, these topics seem a bit spaced out…which might also be a fitting description of myself, after rereading all of this.

8 thoughts on “Extension of Identity in Social Media Learning

  1. I think about some of these things too, particularly because I am one who is an exintrovert… I tend to be introverted but, at times, allow (or need) that reflection to bubble up to the surface for everyone to see. And I do so with enough volume that it is often mistaken for regularity. And as in real life, my capability in necessarily public situations, like speaking to a large audience, is assumed to transfer to my personal, social interactions when it *decidedly* does not.

    One of the things I like about the MOOC idea and (so far) practice, is that by distributing the conversation among willing participants, the inauthenticity of forced forum exchanges is mostly lost and can almost entirely be avoided.

    Your thoughts on the the nearly instantaneous nature of social media is well taken, but it is productive to also consider that the “nearly” is very important. I think that Ong’s work on the idea of a “new orality” is very salient to discussions of this kind because we aren’t returning to the mechanism of orality (though where we are going has important similarities) but to a new kind of orality that is semisynchronous and far more flexible to our desired approach to sensemaking. And, like Ong, I suspect that we (of this time) suffer from severe limitations on our ability to understand this change because of our own cultural frame…

    I am surprised at your emphasis on people participating in a MOOC for page counts and tags… that hasn’t been my experience, but I am far from having experienced even a bare majority of the work of any MOOC’s participants, so maybe I’m just lucky!


  2. Hi Chris, exintrovert is a nice term, and a good description of the bubble there. I can relate. One of the things I’m very conscious about in myself is to not lose that introverted side of me. This post is very much influenced by Ong (second quote is his, first is McLuhan) and that idea that you bring up about the new orality. In myself, I often get lost in the balance between in- and ex-troverted, dealing with it best when I take the time to think about it and am more conscious about how I want to be in any given situation. Just because SM can be instantaneous, doesn’t mean it has to be used as such.

    It’s an interesting point that both Ong and McLuhan (I’m sure many others) emphasize the limitation of understanding our own time from within our own time. The ability to see more clearly in our cultural frame may end up being a benefit of the new mesh between the instant and mechanical mediated worlds. Do you think that’s a possibility?

    You make a good point about one of the benefits of a MOOC, as well. I’ll have to remember that, as it may be a defining aspect. I was a bit worried about my comment on tags and counts, and really meant no judgement; some are here to build large or specialized networks and maybe don’t have time or desire for some of the fluff of dwelling on ideas.


  3. I thought that second quote might be Ong, but I wasn’t sure… and I can’t agree more with the need for a deliberate approach to the use of Social Media and managing our introverted and extroverted tendencies in general…

    Good question about the possibility of transcending or stepping outside (more) of our frame of reference in part because of the particular mesh we are experiencing. I’m not sure… by my definition, completely stepping outside is impossible, but there is certainly a spectrum involved and I’m intrigued by the notion.

    I wasn’t intending to mark you as judgmental about tags and counts. It is a part of the game mechanics that powers social media, but one that seems greatly diminished in MOOCs. And I wonder if “lurking” (peripheral participation?) is related to networks and connected learning as weak ties are to traditional social networks of which their technologically mediated versions are just that: versions.


  4. That’s cool. Lurking is an interesting topic, maybe even similar to being labeled “anti-social” in the physical world…as it’s not as creepy as “Lurking around the neighborhood” would be, probably meaning something more about the frequency of interaction more than anything else. I do think there’s a connection there in what you’re saying, or a potential one at least. It comes down to quality, and in a lot of social situations quality isn’t so dependent on high quantity.


  5. I really like this post, Glen, thank you for writing it! I just started reading your blog today, and you have some interesting things to say. I am new to the MOOC, and I’m doing it mostly to figure out how to use all the different tools/figure out which ones I want to use and how. Turns out that process has almost everything to do with what you’re talking about for me. I haven’t quite been able to figure out some of my emotional and psychological reactions to spending a lot of time on the Internet, and I think you have given me some words to begin to describe it.

    Most people are out there trying to create an identity on the web through their blogs and social media sites, and the effect to me seems to be a watering down of identity due to the difficulty in expressing oneself in such a short time frame (you have to capture people’s attention right away!) or a hyper-specialization of identities. Blogs get higher readership if they are focused on one thing, and how many people actually tailor themself to their blog, rather than vice versa? I find myself doing this too often, wanting to get myself out there, and then I need step back again. Fill in the blanks on “I do this…” and “I am interested in this…” are not the only things that should define us as people.

    So far it seems like the MOOC attracts some very different kinds of people who are really trying to use the MOOC platform to improve themselves and their lives, and so some more genuine things can happen.

    Again, I really appreciated this post! More internet philosophy is what we need!


    • Thanks again for the comment, Tatiana, it is very encouraging.

      I try to use my blog for more finished writing, but I’m also allowing to to change over time. It is difficult at times not to get caught up in things that can be measured and scaled, but blogs are such a flexible medium, they really can work to anyone’s advantage in defining themselves on a whole.


  6. Hi Glen – thank you for pointing me to this post, which has been very interesting to read, given the work I am doing with Carmen.

    I also like Chris’ term ‘exintrovert’. I wonder how many introverts there are out there who have been lured out of their introversion by social media – or it may be that the distant communication offered by social media provides introverts with a safer environment for communication. I should say that i always come out as an introvert on tests’.

    I wasn’t sure about ‘turning comments off’. When John Mak, Roy Williams and I were working on a paper about preferences for blogs or forums, our friend and colleague Matthias Melcher suggested that we could think of blogs as the front porch to your house and forums as an open market place. I now always think of my blog as the front porch to my house. People are welcome to come onto my front porch and hold their own discussions there if they wish, but I won’t always come out of my house to join in. This is how I see comments on my blog working. Hope this makes sense.



  7. Pingback: Reflecting on MOOCs and Retention « A Point of Contact

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