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Digital Identities and Social Relations

October 12th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

Just spent half an hour checking around blogs and twitter to see what is new on a Monday morning. And I was interested to see the latest survey from Pew Internet (just an aside – why cannot we organise as thorough a survey in Europe as Pew does for the US?).

The latest Pew Internet & American Life Project survey asked respondents to assess predictions about technology and its roles in the year 2020 and they provide the following summary of the (very substantial) report:

  • The mobile device will be the primary connection tool to the internet for most people in the world in 2020.
  • The transparency of people and organizations will increase, but that will not necessarily yield more personal integrity, social tolerance, or forgiveness.
  • Voice recognition and touch user-interfaces with the internet will be more prevalent and accepted by 2020.
  • Those working to enforce intellectual property law and copyright protection will remain in a continuing arms race, with the crackers who will find ways to copy and share content without payment.
  • The divisions between personal time and work time and between physical and virtual reality will be further erased for everyone who is connected, and the results will be mixed in their impact on basic social relations.
  • Next-generation engineering of the network to improve the current internet architecture is more likely than an effort to rebuild the architecture from scratch.”

I will be coming back to many of these issues in the next few posts. But I am particularly interested in the issue of the division between personal and work time and between physical and virtual reality – although I am not sure about some of the terminology. two weeks ago we ran a workshop on Digital identities at the European Conference on Educational Research in Vienna as part of the Eduserve Rhizome project on Digital Identities. We are working on a short video on the workshop which should come out later this week. Most of the issues arising from the workshop were as we would have expected and in line with similar workshops we have organised in the UK. But what was surprising were some of the discussions in the workshop especially around the issues of privacy, personal spaces and work . personal life issues. Why surprising? Mainly because there was such a divergence of feelings around these issues. there were some 18 participants in the workshop from 15 different countries. And it appears that attitudes towards privacy and work / personal life divisions are heavily influenced by culture. This finding requires far more investigation than we were able to undertake in a short workshop. But it does appear that in different countries there are very different attitudes towards for instance what data should be private and the degree ot which entries on a social networking sites should be viewed as part of professional activities.

One participant provided an example of where a teacher had expressed personal opinions on a social networking site which were seen as racist by parents of some of the students and resulted – if my memory is right – in them being dismissed. Some felt this was reasonable, given that such an opinions would effect their ability as a teacher. Others felt that however objectionable such opinions this infringed on rights of personal free speech in a non work related forum.

Steven Warburton summaries the dissussion on the Rhizome project blog:

The “richness in nationalities immediately foregrounded what is an often overlooked dimension in discussions around digital identity – namely the impact of cultural difference. Different cultures both create and consume their [digital] identities in different ways. This was most keenly reflected in the shared conversations around where we perceive the boundary between our public and private lives. The mass use of social services such as Facebook can appear to have a homogenising effect, erasing cultural distinctions through normalised ’social-networking’ practices.”

I have not read the full Pew report. But issues like this will not go away and I am intrigued to find out in which ways the experts Pew interviewed see the mixed impact on basic social relations

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Steven Warburton and Irmeli Aro. Irmeli Aro said: RT @GrahamAttwell Different cultures both create and consume their [digital] identities in different ways. New blog post: http://is.gd/4fhdL […]

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