I’m at ALT-C and Jonathan Worth gave a keynote this morning that brought to mind something I’ve been pondering for a while, particularly in relation to some of Audrey Watters writing. Jonathan was talking about the positive experience of Phonar, but then how he had considered the issues around privacy, and consent. He was suggesting that we need to discuss with students all the implications of going online, and also raise their awareness of how much information they are leaking.
As an advocate of digital scholarship I have been having similar anxieties regarding academics. When all this was new I spent much of my time encouraging people to blog, get on twitter, etc. And I still feel that the benefits of establishing an online identity for academic purposes are considerable. Plus it’s also very rewarding, I have developed great friendships, been pushed intellectually, established productive collaborations, and been inspired from my online network. I wouldn’t want to give that up. But increasingly, now that we are past the first flush of enthusiasm and this enters the mainstream, we have to be aware of a ‘dark’ side.
This can be the pressure to build such an identity as it becomes more important; the possibility of getting trolled and being involved in unpleasant (or even downright threatening) online discussions; increased monitoring by institutions through data; loss of control and privacy. And so on.
The reaction to this can still be “don’t go online” but I wouldn’t advocate that, partly because of all the positives I’ve mentioned and also because it becomes increasingly difficult to function. Doing the digital equivalent of hiding in a cave in Utah is not a realistic proposition, and I would argue it is a disservice to new researchers to discourage them from developing online identities.
Which means we have to develop an understanding of all these issues, and ways of dealing with them. And here’s the problem: when I used to encourage people to go online, they would often protest that they don’t have time. If they know need to be experts in privacy then there is even less time. I don’t really have an answer to this, I’m caught between the belief that developing that online identity is key, and feeling that increasingly we shouldn’t engage in that process without a better understanding of what it entails. Hence, my angst of the title.
Anyway, I was reminded of this Mitchell and Webb clip. PS – I don’t think I am one of the baddies, yet.