Digital natives are those born with a technological advantage by growing up and developing alongside it (Ohler, 2010). Human beings are social creatures by nature, and through their innate desire to interact with others, they are qualified to become digital citizens. This post concentrates on the spaces these citizens affiliate themselves with, also known as digital communities. Represented by local, global, and digital spheres, digital communities allow people to illustrate their multiple social identities, something theorist Henri Tajfel (1982) said was possible because of the esteem drawn from our intergroup relationships. Anyone is capable of having more than one social identity because we are comprised of numerous traits. These units of personality are what Gordon Allport (1927) says is ultimately responsible for our behaviors. Within digital communities, the focus similarly lies within our actions and reactions of the content – bearing with it a sense of responsibility. To consider the transformation of a digital citizen from Internet’s beginnings to the immersive land of today, a narrative arc shows a progression from one on one communication, to something Clay Shirky (2010) calls cognitive surplus. This concept of creating content with a “by me – for the world” approach leaves a positive space for using digital technology for the greater good. But I wonder…can a digital citizen ever be denaturalized?
Prior to entering this course, I was unaware of the phrase “digital citizenship.” The term certainly makes sense considering the technology-based climate embedded in our current society. At first glance, I thought of digital citizenship as a means to maintain a virtual rolodex full of people that I interact with based on specific traits within my personality and interests. Here in Los Angeles, no one here is just one thing. And after living here for the past 7 years, I’ve fallen in suit and have added multiple identities. For example, I rotate around different stand up comedy clubs as a comedian and improv performer, attend largely any basketball game I can scam a ticket to, and have my slue of boxing friends that I attach myself to in hopes of improve my left hook. These are just three aspects of my life, and if I thought about writing a list of all my traits and interests, I would feel schizophrenic. But this is how I believe traditional communities have evolved. It’s ok to have more than one identity or citizenship. I don’t have to feel like a schizo anymore because all of my traits are allowed, catered to, and encouraged by a digital community.
Digital community is a virtual space fueled by real, tangible emotion. Social media represents a large platform that would not exist without participation. In Digital Community, Digital Citizen, Jason Ohler (2010) lists three types of communities that people can affiliate themselves with via citizenship and participation: local, global, and digital. Ohler (2010) notes that the digital community, while existing in media and technology based settings, “might not be local, but they feel local” (p.42). This is possible because the emotions felt come from people who are allowed to speak and behave in an unfiltered manner.
Humans have always had a need for social engagement and some sort of validation from others – hence, the birth of our social identity. Henri Tajfel (1982) theorized social identity and intergroup relations by stating individual esteem is drawn from a conscious affiliation with a group or groups. The capability to maintain these multiple identities has increased from Tajfel’s time in 1982, and is even more possible because of this concept of digital community and digital citizenship (Ohler, 2010). Today’s networked culture allows a digital citizen to find likeminded people much more easily (e.g. check-in features on apps, search/topic parameters on sites, etc). So when I think about the multiple intergroup relations I have (comedienne, sports consumer, self-proclaimed “Mike-elle Tyson…same power punch without the taste for flesh), all of these identities are possible to not only be organized, but also accessible thanks to digital communities. Therefore when I think about the people that I consider myself close to within those different spheres, they all have nothing in common but me, and are thus networked together and are considered by extended “traditional” family.
Digital communities allow people to be themselves and be as many versions of the self as they desire. Added to my vision of digital citizenship and communities is the emphasis on behavior. Gordon Allport’s (1927) theory of personality traits places all of the importance on not what caused the trait – but by what the trait causes; “not by its roots, but by its fruits” (p.289). Ohler (2010) defines digital the same way – moving away from technology and the machines, and focusing more on the “content and communication” (p.23). What this digital imagery has inspired, is a new mode of behavior modification where people are allowed to create a reconceptualized version of themselves and thereby, act accordingly within that new identity (Ohler, 2010).
From avatars, role playing, multiple accounts, etc., Ohler (2010) notes that digital spaces allow people to become a “very new blend of self” (p.49). What I find to be the most understated result of “virtual life” and “real life” is the consequences. Being mislead online with someone posing as someone else is now considered being “catfished,” which is now not only a thing, but it’s also now a reality show and an indie (god awful) movie. Just ask San Diego Chargers line backer Manti Te’o what catfish means.
To consider the evolution of citizenship as a narrative arc, I post the protagonist as a digital citizen. Through the learning/transformation process, the citizen’s problem/question is, “what can I do with the tools provided by a digital community?” The beginning stage is local community as we see it without the immersive bells and whistles. The arc progresses with the following: early broadband, modems, personal computers, word processing, IBM PC, early MAC functions, and 1 on 1 email communication. This is where the solution/response becomes answered and our digital citizen begins to evolve. The citizen has become a little spoiled perhaps and has raised the standards of what technology can produce. And the citizen’s behaviors are the focus in the additions of local, global, and digital communities (Ohler, 2010) as a direct response. So the end of my arc lists but is certainly not limited to new features like ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education), speed, operations, accessibility, innovation, social media and something that Clay Shirky (2010) calls “cognitive surplus.”
In his Ted Talks presentation titled “How Cognitive Surplus Will Change the World,” Shirky (2010) concentrates on the impactful, global possibilities digital technology has allowed. I particularly love how he addresses that couch potatoes may not just be lazy bums, but rather, maybe they just haven’t been given the tools they didn’t know they needed to be creative and productive (Shirky, 2010). Maybe this couch potato is even our protagonist…asking how to participate to the world from his recliner…and his solution is a digital community where s/he can be free to express himself in a way that might ordinarily be viewed as weird from traditional society. Shirky (2010) calls the “ancient human motivation” a need to be creative producers, to produce either a communal value (by the self, for the self) or civic value (by the self, for the whole). And these options are much more realistic in achieving because of digital technologies.
This concept of cognitive surplus is just one of the ways my narrative arc for a digital citizen can be answered. Behaviors are inspired and remain centered in the digital communities people affiliate themselves with. Having multiple social identities and intergroup relations is not only natural, but is now easily manageable because of the virtual networks we’ve integrated in our lives. Spaces, friends, and families that normally would not intersect are now able to in digital spheres where we act as the host. However none of this could be possible, including the digital community itself, without action, reaction, and participation. But I wonder, is it possible to become too immersed with something? Is there such a thing as a digital overdose? What are the symptoms and what is the CPR equivalent of reviving a digital citizen? Perhaps that certification happens through studying media psychology.
Allport, G. W. (1927). Concepts Of Trait And Personality. Psychological Bulletin, 24(5), 284-293.
Ohler, J. (2010). Part I: The call to digital citizenship. Digital community, digital citizen (pp. 11-72). Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Corwin Press.
Shirky, C. (2010, June). Clay Shirky: How cognitive surplus will change the world [Video file].Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/clay_shirky_how_cognitive_surplus_will_change_the_world.html