*My principle, Stephen Whiffin, often refers to the “Blurring of lines between living and learning,” and it is from this quote that the title of this post comes from. If I were to sum this post up on Twitter I’d say, (in 140 characters), “Although we share different things in different places, we are who we are, and slowly our online identity is becoming a fabric of our being.”


Here is a photo of me in my Twitter hat. That’s George Couros behind me, ‘photo bombing’ me. This was at the ConnectedCa Conference a few weeks back, and the photo was taken by Elisa Carlson, @EMSCarlson on Twitter. This is what she said in the accompanying tweet:


@EMSCarlson: See hat. ppl r getting a little carried away w/this social media stuff. #connectedca

This isn’t the first time I’ve been teased about my @datruss hat. Chris Wejr calls it my ‘Bling’ hat and has thrown out enough remarks that I’m just going to have to get him an @mrwejr hat! 🙂

Here is the thing I wonder about… why is it ok for us to wear name brands like Nike and Helly Hansen, but not our own names? What’s wrong with ‘Product Me’? Which I happen to think is much better than ‘Product You‘. Yet even as I write this, I can’t help but feel that it sounds narcissistic and so perhaps ‘product me’ is the wrong approach to understanding this aspect of identity? The point is that we are sharing more and more of ourselves online and that ‘person’ that we share online is becoming a bigger & bigger part of who we really are. You have to go online to read this, to learn about what I’m pondering and what I think is worthy of reflecting on and choosing to share publicly. You will ultimately know more about my thoughts on identity than most people I know and converse with face-to-face.

And now, more than ever, I’ve had my digital and physical contexts merge.

I had the privilege of meeting Alan Levine last week. I’ve known him for a few years, but we had never met face-to-face before a twitter conversation led me to the realization that he was in town. We quite literally fell into conversation like two old friends that were re-connecting. In our conversation, we talked about “schools, identity, & stuff we can’t tweet”.


And it wasn’t so much about ‘stuff we can’t tweet’ as it was about what we choose to/not to tweet. One example I gave is that I really like Texas Hold’em poker. Now that’s not a secret, I’ve even blogged about it once, but I choose not to make that part of my regular online conversations. And the fact is that I’m far more chronic about reading blogs than playing poker, much to the chagrin of my friends whom are waiting for my inaugural home game after my return from China (10 months ago).

I contextualize my online conversations much like I do face-to-face conversations. This blog space allows me to say more than, “Although we share different things in different places, we are who we are, and slowly our online identity is becoming a fabric of our being.” …which I can and did say in a tweet. I choose the message length, language, voice, and content based on the context, the medium. I don’t want to share my tweets in Facebook where I’ll spam my family’s timelines with educational links. I use different hashtags in Twitter for different kinds of resources. I don’t usually sit with face-to-face friends and talk about Blurring Identity Lines. That’s why I hated Google Buzz, because it took all my conversations from different contexts and smushed them together in one place.

Yet it is getting harder and harder to separate my online and physical world identities. For one thing, my definition of friendship has drastically shifted over the past few years… and I’m not just talking about Facebook’s idea of friendship, I’m talking about real concrete, salt-of-the-earth and down-to-earth friendships. As I recently said, “The lines between ‘digital’ vs ‘in-real-life’ friendship have truly blurred for me over the past 7 years. Geography is no longer a barrier to friendship.”

A great example of this came up when both Alan and I realized that a mutual friend, whom we both have never met face-to-face, had influenced and affected us deeply, although in completely different ways. Claudia Ceraso lives in Argentina, but she also inhabits a digital geography where both Alan and I have had digitally connected experiences with her. Those experiences can be as meaningful as a visit to the local coffee shop with a dear friend.

A day after meeting Alan, Claudia found out via twitter that Alan and I had met.

Alan and I sat in a pub in Vancouver, at our first face-to-face meeting, reminiscing about another friend that neither of us have met face-to-face… The lines are indeed blurring.

So, is my @datruss hat taking this social media thing too far? Or is it more an expression of me as a blended identity? Rodd Lucier already had @thecleversheep on his hat, and Zoe Branigan-Pipe went shopping for her very own @zbpipe hat while we were in Calgary… It isn’t nearly as much about social media as it is about our ‘whole’ identity.


14 comments on “Blurred Identity Lines

  1. Such a timely post, David. I’ve been thinking a lot about what I share, how much I share, and even where I share lately. I want to be more transparent, but that’s not as easy as it seems… especially because there are some things I really feel are not appropriate to share all the time.

    Personally, I LOVE your bling hat. “Product Me” is a better endorsement than some corporation making money from overseas sweatshops anyway, right?

    Thanks for a great post!

  2. Hi Dave,
    You said “that ‘person’ that we share online is becoming a bigger & bigger part of who we really are.”

    I’ve been noticing that what I share online is exposing more of who I AM – these are thoughts and opinions, parts of me that I just didn’t share before. Things that wouldn’t come up in f2f conversation, that I wouldn’t think to tell you on the more rare events that we meet in person, things we don’t have time or opportunity to share in real life – these are often exactly the things that I DO share online.

    This sharing results in a depth of friendship that would have taken years or even a lifetime to develop in sporadic face to face or phone conversations – yet happens amazingly quickly with the addition of texting, Twitter, Facebook, blogging, etc…

    Does everyone use the technology this way? I’m sure they don’t. It can be used to distance others, to manufacture an inauthentic persona,to hide, to avoid. But it can also be used consciously,to create connections and share MORE of my identity with the world.

    It all depends on how we choose to live…

  3. I think that Heidi hit the nail on the head with this point:

    “I’ve been noticing that what I share online is exposing more of who I AM – these are thoughts and opinions, parts of me that I just didn’t share before.”

    We are inseparable from ourselves. Who we we are online and offline has always been part of the multi-layered mess that is us. I think “identity” is interesting as a concept because it is much more about that perception of ourselves that comes from the interactions with and reflections of others and a meta-cognitive observation of our behaviors, traits and actions. I’m curious how different online communities that we participate in professionally and personally, and the relationships that grow out of those interactions, affect perception of self. I have certainly found that my conceptions of my abilities, personality, politics/ideology and status/privilege to be much more open to examination and consideration personally through due to my interactions and reading online.

    Interesting post, and certainly “blurring lines” of what we conceptualise as being connected.

  4. I must say I do feel I was at that table!

    Now, “the fabric of our beings”. What a lovely way of putting it. I’ll definitely adopt it.

    David, you’re probably the closest person to my thinking that meeting f2f is something that needn’t happen to make connections. I would like to extend that thought. I think that it would be rather limiting to think that the only meaningful connections to our learning and weaving the fabric of our beings are the ones who we might meet f2f one day. The world is too large to leave so many people and their uniqueness outside.

    Of course, I am so curious about those untwittable things! Lol.

  5. I spoke about this recently: The pertinent line is that “This generation of kids make no distinction between online friends and F2F friends. They are just friends”. I’ve felt the same for years, and it’s a point of pride with me when people, meeting me in person for the first time after an online connection, say “You are JUST as I imagined you!!” Good or bad…that’s exactly my goal. Now…. I just need a hat….

  6. I think you are right by saying that every form or shape of communication (how different in focus, style and approach they might seem) are eventually an expression of all that is you.

    Some people might say it’s less authentic to express in different ways on different platforms. Like you are hiding something. But the fact is that your real self gets out even more when it is expressed differently. Simply because you can express sides of yourself that are there but might not be suitable for everybody that belongs to the social circles your are part of (and still, social exclusion and judgement are still relevant when one does not conform to certain group norms)

    Even to express anonymously through avatar/nickname kinds of profiles is an addition to growing to be the real you, since the possibility of being anonymous helps us to step over the initial insecurity we have about certain parts of ourselves. The ability to express them freely give us the chance to grow closer to those sides.

    I had an interview with the cyberpsychologist John Suler about this topic. Everybody who wants to read it, feel free to click on the link:

  7. Thanks for the post, David! I found it very intriguing. I had a little bit of this feeling, only backwards, the last couple of weeks. I blog regularly on two different blogs, and I met up with friends that I only know f2f and they mentioned things I had posted about out of the blue. It reminded me that those are me out there on the internet too, and what I write here, on the internet connects with me as a person in real life. It is definitely an interesting world that we are a part of, and I am excited, though sometimes tentative about it!

    Thanks for sharing these thoughts – I think they are important for us to consider. The thought that we can be someone different online than we are in person is becoming less realistic with the more technology that we utilize.

  8. So much of what is being said, in these comments and elsewhere, is hitting a chord with me. I hope you’ve read the comments above before reading here, for it saves me repeating the thoughts just shared by others. Though I wish I had said this from Heidi,

    “This sharing results in a depth of friendship that would have taken years or even a lifetime to develop in sporadic face to face or phone conversations – yet happens amazingly quickly with the addition of texting, Twitter, Facebook, blogging, etc…”

    I sat across from Heidi, adding the finishing touches to this post, just before lunch at the Northern Voice Conference. She is someone I’ve known in both the physical and digital world for some time now.

    Shifting online again, Rodd Lucier said in his blog post Going Tribal, with respect to building friendships with online peers and in online communities, “Our voices become more authentic, our lives become more transparent, and our relationships become more meaningful.”

    I commented on Rodd’s post saying, “…I keep going back to the idea that geography has lost its’ hold as a relationship barrier. It would seem that geography has been replaced by connectivity as a barrier. If we have the ability to connect, we can find those common bonds that attract people around ideas, beliefs and common experiences which build in authenticity to the people we connect with. Be it blogs, Twitter or social networks, or even Skype, we are sharing so much more of ourselves and in sharing, we extend our ‘true’ selves in ways we never have before.”

    And in his response, Rodd said, “… my closest professional friendships began online, and grew from a focus on ideas and experiences rather than from random coincidences of time and geography.”

    And keeping with the geography theme, Claudia (@fceblog) shared my blog post on Twitter saying, “Blurred identities.Reading, enjoying and commenting at @datruss ‘ home, I mean, blog…”

    Which takes the idea of a ‘home’ page a little deeper than is most often interpreted. And yet, this is my digital home, and I appreciate the visits by those who stop by and converse with me… get to know me… and ultimately learn more about me than many of my friends that don’t visit me ‘here’…

    And on that note, in my post above I linked to Claudia’s FCE blog, but her comment linked to her other blog ELT notes, and specifically to her post Identity Revisited, which shared a video by Alan Levine called ‘We, Our Digital Selves, and Us’. I watched it when Alan first published it, but I chose to watch it again and was compelled to write this comment response when he posed the question: What parts of you are people missing out on if they do not interact with you online?

    Alan was inspired by Claudia’s post, ‘Some thoughts on identity -particularly mine’ where she asks the similar question, “What is it about you that surfaces in an online environment and would not come up anywhere else?”

    I instantly remember this wonderfully insightful and poetic post and search down to the comments where I wrote, “How long has it been that we have ‘known’ each other now? 5 or 6 years? And yet we do not know each other in a world physical and concrete… but we know each other. I remember ‘seeing’ you in a Facebook photo by Eduardo about a year ago. It was wonderful to see, to add one more detail to the Claudia that I do know, but it was not something necessary. I thought it was nice to be able to add that aspect to the knowledge of a friend, but rather than being some great revelation, it was my surprise that I had not known what you look liked for so long that was facinating, moreso than finally knowing what you look like.”

    And this all leads me to the notion that I did not write this post… instead it is a story woven from the fabric of many conversations, started years ago, when I ‘met’ my good friends Claudia, Alan, Rodd and others, in these wonderful digital spaces, or rather, places.

  9. I like the hat.

    That almost was going to be the full comment given the poignant responses already said here.

    Without any doubt the most important, sustained… “real” relationships I have had we’re made possible by the affordances of these open online spaces. And while agree with Claudia and know from my experience knowing her, that meeting in person is not a requirement… but it does amplify and propel them farther, deeper when we have the opportunity to do something like share a meal, drinks at a place like where David and met recently.

    The curious thing is even our language and ideas are rooted around identity being a single monolithic entity. The fascinating outcome of that video I made was noting how much of the language in the students response was the word “hiding” about their relationship to being online- the focus on what we hold back rather than what we let out.

    Yes, the Internet is truly that place of dreams full of friends we never met (the poem Claudia shared) and yet the dream enables a serendipity engine that makes those meetings not only more possible, but more meaningful.

    I like the hat.

  10. Claudia, I agree that meeting face-to-face is not a requirement of forming a meaningful friendship, and I also agree with Alan that such encounters amplify relationships. In my own experience I find myself more apt to engage in conversations over a longer period of time, with folks I’ve had the opportunity to meet first hand.

    Conversations are more likely to wade into personal waters when you’re sitting down over a pint, or a coffee, or a meal; and for me, it’s that more complete knowing of a person’s true self that compels me to enage in conversation with them in spaces like this.

  11. I couldn’t agree more with you Rod. You may be sure that if I did not live in Argentina I would have already met Alan, David and some others f2f! They would learn to dance tango,for instance, which I don’t think I could explain online.

    They are not round the corner for me, but closer to my ideas than most people I know f2f. So, the relationship continues and as much as I hope to meet them one day, I understand it will open new opportunities the day it happens, but it will not change that we are bound by common beliefs, not superficial at all.

    All this clarified, I’m dreaming of my own hat!

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