This week we were asked to spend some time exploring the idea of “Shaming” as it pertains to social media and our digital identities. I found as I waded through the content I was pulled in a few different directions.
First, I tackled Sherry Turkle’s article “Stop Googling. Let’s Talk” and her views on meaningful communication and conversation. I could relate to what she was saying when she talked about how we are never fully immersed in conversation any longer because we are always “giving” our attention elsewhere, mostly to our devices. Often I have sat with a group of friends that I have chosen to go out with and spend time with, only to find all of us at several points ignoring each other but all fully engrossed with what we had on our phones. She made me question the level of conversation that we have on those meetings. I do feel that it has declined somewhat, but at the same time, is it all that different than being in a pub and watching a random sporting event that might be on the TV’s? I think that we do have the ability to focus in the on conversation when the need arises. I would like to believe that if a friend that I was socializing with had a need for deeper conversation that it would be only a matter of tuning in to what they would have to say. I believe that we do have the ability to connect, we just sometimes can be distracted. I think that Turkle does have a point but her point only scratches the surface of the issue.
I then jumped into the Nine Elements of Digital Citizenship. Recently I attended the Saskatchewan Middle Years Conference in Saskatoon where several of the presentations were regarding our role as educators and digital literacies in the classroom. It seemed to be a common theme there as well. In reflection of my own practice, I think that as an educator I spend a great deal of time worrying about teaching students themes more from the “Protect Yourself/Others” category and not enough time giving a more attention to the other elements. I think that partially I feel that is my responsibility to teach about the “dangers” that exist. This lended itself nicely into the next reading of the Saskatchewan Action Plan to address Cyberbullying to help implement Digital Literacies into the classroom.
Jason Ohler’s article “Character Education in the Digital Age” talked about the students living “two lives,” their online digital self and the self that they present inside of school. The discussion reminded me of a sort of parallel example of when sexual health education was really being introduced in schools and at a younger age to students. The “old” belief being that was a family matter, because that was their parents job to teach them or they would learn what they needed to from the world around them, it wasn’t the schools job to teacher about safe sexual practices, because it was something that effected their lives outside of school. Listening to those arguments now and then applying the same arguments to students digital lives, outside of school, seems somewhat silly. Our students are not leading two separate lives and the sooner we realize that education has to address their reality, what we try to teach them has more relevance and a greater impact on what they learn.
Perhaps the most thoughtful reflection from the week came from watching both the Monica Lewinsky and Jon Ronson pieces. I think those pieces had the greatest impact because I was already thinking about how important our role is as educators to help students make good choices both in the “real lives” as well as the life they lead digitally. I can remember when the Monica Lewinsky story broke and the frenzy the world was in to know more about her and the story. The media cared very little for her as a person except for how the story could be expanded and explored from every possible angle. Sadly, I remember believing the picture that the media painted of her, the horrible, disgusting, smear campaign that was her live during the heat of when the story broke to the years that followed. I can’t image the emotional and physical strain that she would feel as an person, but also that her family and friends would feel. I also reflect with a guilty conscience how I watched with interest as this woman’s life was town apart in the media. Looking back now I would like to think that as a society and as a consumer of media we have gotten better or more moderate with our consumption but I’m not sure that is really true. I think that we have more ways to consume, but we also have more ways to voice our side or stand up for theirs. We have the potential to be more positive and supportive than in the past. I guess this ties back to the importance of all Nine Elements of Digital Citizenship. I think as consumers of media we know that the voices are often negative surrounding stories like this that break, but with the new power we have there is potential for us to have a bigger voice in our support for people when they do become the center of what we consider “public shaming”. I think it is important for us to send a positive message to students in how we teach them to exist online, reflects the kind of people they want to be. “Bullying” someone in person is no different that bullying someone online, even if that person is a stranger. Online our lives become connected in ways not physically possible, but a person is a person regardless of ever meeting them face to face or not. While we may never know the effect we have on a person as they read the comments left by us, we do know how we would feel reading what was posted. We must always remember empathy and compassion, even for those who we may never actually know, because it is still a reflection of who we are as a person.