This post may or may not be inspired by the fact that I’m ripping through the new Daniel Silva book “The Heist”, in which the protagonist is an Israeli spy that often assumes one fake identity or another from moment to moment during a mission.
To my shame, I haven’t managed to achieve my childhood dream of being a spy. Then again, I haven’t become an astronaut, fireman, rock star or numerous other dreams that shifted and changed depending on my mood, the weather and, quite often, my mum’s patience.
Having said that, I am leading at least two lives. As we all are. Whether we want to or not.
This is a little theory I’ve developed over the last few years as more and more of our lives are digitised and stored and shared online. Information that is stored by us via a Like on FaceBook or by others like a local newspaper writing a story on our sports team and uploading a copy to their website. Or when you fill in a competition slip in the shopping centre to win a car and you don’t read the fine print which says they might send you an email in the future. Or when you sign into your free email account and start emailing travel sites about your next trip. Much of what we do online is tracked and stored, albeit often securely and temporarily for all intents and purposes.
But how does this affect our real lives and the perception that others hold about us?
The first life we lead is that which humans have lead since we first Liked our Neanderthal-age neighbour’s new collection of cave paintings and animal bone headdresses. Our real private life is the one shared with only our family, our partners, and perhaps not even them. It is the life we sometimes only have in our own minds. Our private thoughts and feelings. Our private joys and heartbreaks. Those moments – sometimes stretched out over years and years – which no one else may ever see and yet is so core to our being that it shapes our thoughts and actions whether we want them to or not.
The second life we lead is our real public life. It is the life which others see, whether they are close to us or not. It is the smile or the frown at an interview. It is the warm greeting or the grunt of acknowledgement that becomes our trademark personality. This life is the one most often critiqued, and also the one over which we most obsess. Especially true for people in the “public eye”, projecting (and it very much is a verb – the action of projection can take significant effort and skill) a particular life to others determines to a large extent how the world around us shapes itself.
Thanks to the eruption of widely accessible and highly connected technologies, in particular social media, we now have two other categories to add to those which have existed since the Iliad was first told from one bard to another.
Our digital private life and digital public life may or may not reflect our real lives.
Our FaceBook profile, our Twitter accounts, our blogs, our texts, our LinkedIn resumes, our forums and feedback, our comments and circles may be a direct mirroring of what we do in public on a daily basis. The way we speak, the way we look, the way we interact with others may be similar to what we do normally.
My position is that we are kidding ourselves if we think our digital lives are not as important as our real lives if we have any kind of job or life experience which requires social interaction. As a teacher, if we think that our kids aren’t on FaceBook discussing us or the work we have them do; or that our current and future employers aren’t Google searching us as a very typical step in a vetting process; or that other committees and groups and stakeholders aren’t affected when something positive or negative appears online – say, the fact that you coached the Under 15s soccer team to a grand final or that you recently ran an excellent festival at school – we seriously need to rethink our attitude.
I contend that we need to be actively aware of, and contributing to, our digital lives as much as we are our real lives. We need to be shaping the digital footprint we leave (as much as that is possible) lest we leave that to others including the giant data factories which collect, analyse and repurpose our information at will.
There still may be areas where we can have a digital private life – such as a well monitored FaceBook account – but there are even more areas mostly out of our control which affect how people see us and the judgements they make about us.
If you don’t want a FaceBook account, fine. Just don’t be surprised when you appear on it anyway. Be a strong and active digital citizen so that we can experience the immense benefits and potential pitfalls of it all and, most importantly, help guide our young people through a world in which they already have citizenship, whether we like it or not.
Here’s a little presentation I did at a Macquarie University teachmeet which sums it all up.
Thanks for reading! Now, go project yourself!