As I think about digital identity, I find myself thinking about authenticity. Is it possible—or positive—to be one’s authentic self in the digital world. On an existential level, what does it even mean to have an authentic self?
Considering this in a virtual context caused me to think about the question in real life. When I started teaching, I was usually on a first name basis with my students. I wasn’t young—I’d been an attorney for years—but I looked young. I’d teach class in jeans and flip flops, perched on the side of a desk rather than behind it. When I moved to other institutions, the expectations were more formal. My colleagues went by Professor, so I did too. When I taught law, I wore a suit. My internal self rolled its eyes at these conventions. Nonetheless I adapted.
Over time, I’ve grown into Professor Banner, so that my internal self and my outward self feel less conflicted. I recognize the power she holds to help students get jobs, get into graduate school, obtain scholarships. I’ve used the title to advocate. And I’ve aged. This year for the first time one of my students thanked me for being like a parent to them. I was surprised to discover I didn’t mind.
Where does this leave me in terms of digital identity?
danah boyd talks about not digital identity but digital identities. As I completed the vistor-resident map, I realized this rings true. There are sites like Canvas where I am Professor Banner, some where I’m Francine Banner-Hubbard, PTO mom, others where I’m franibee, fan of sloths, artsy photography, and celebrity gossip. All of these are me, and yet, none represent all of me. The aim, I think is not to establish one authentic online self but to recognize a thread of authenticity across multiple selves. For now, however, I’ve chosen to work on developing one. You can find me @ProfessorBanner. I’ll be tweeting in flip flops.