I spent less time this last week thinking about our digital future writ large and more time thinking about my own personal digital future.
After spending these last six weeks reading, talking, and thinking about blogs, twitter, and other mediated technologies, I now feel much more comfortable interacting and actively engaging with the internet. However, I still have many of the same concerns that I started with: How should I present my digital self and manage my online identity? How should I (or should I?) integrate my online and in-person identities? And, given my ever-expanding to-do list, how will I find time to produce digital scholarship that is both relevant and interesting without deprioritizing my other obligations?
Lately, it seems as though I am compelled to defend my profession every time I turn around. Nicholas Kristoff, for example, recently denigrated sociology professors because, apparently, our work is too easily dismissed:
Many academic disciplines also reduce their influence by neglecting political diversity. Sociology, for example, should be central to so many national issues, but it is so dominated by the left that it is instinctively dismissed by the right.
Never mind that the right also “instinctively” dismisses climate science and evolution, amirite?*
Never mind that the sociologist making the biggest public splash these days is someone whose work is being used by the radical right to push anti-gay legislation based on deeply flawed – and quite likely falsified – research on same-sex parenting. Oh, and by the way? This research was funded by fundamentalist Christians. Purely a matter of coincidence, I’m sure.
I consume a fair number of blogs on a consistent basis (my regular reads include I Blame the Patriarchy, Sociological Images, Colorlines, and The Conscience of a Liberal). What I don’t do, however, is comment. In fact, I’ve never once commented* on a blog post.**
In this sense, I am a passive consumer of internet content, much like some of my students who sit and listen but never wade into the conversation. If I think about the internet like a classroom, it’s hard to defend my passive engagement with this medium. In the classroom, I use a variety of techniques to elicit dialogue, based on the philosophy that knowledge production is a collaborative enterprise. More voices, crafted together by an experienced facilitator, produce a more complex, diverse, and enriching understanding of the world and our place in it.
I googled myself yesterday, and I wasn’t at all surprised when the Google couldn’t find me (at least, it took them a page or two to turn up anything relevant). I have scrupulously inspected the privacy settings for browsers and email and set them to the maximum level. I’ve made a concerted effort to be almost entirely anonymous on the internets – no facebook, no twitter, no photos on the homepage of my former department. Apparently, other people who share my namesake have not done the same – they are everywhere! I consider this a boon.
I’ve never particularly wanted a web presence. Moreover, I’ve never particularly wanted a public presence. I value my anonymity. Maybe it’s the ethnographer in me, but I like being one in a crowd.