I’m of a certain vintage where one of my favourite TV programmes as a kid, back in the 1970s and 80s, was ‘Mr Benn’*. For the uninitiated, this was a mesmerisingly simple animated show. The central character was the eponymous Mr Benn who for the most part led a seemingly dull and ordinary life (probably a Whitehall civil servant). The highlight of his day was a visit to the local fancy dress shop during his lunch hour where ‘as if by magic, the shop keeper appeared’ to hand our hero a different costume each day; with which Mr Benn would disappear into the fitting rooms and transform himself, via the magic of stop motion animation, into the character suggested by the costume and then find himself in a Narniaesque fantasy world adventure. So, if Mr Benn tried on a Knight’s armour, he would end up embroiled with a dragon, and en explorer’s costume would find him in the jungle – you begin to get the idea. I can’t say I blame him. If I worked in Whitehall I would be doing exactly the same thing on my lunch-hour.
But what does this have to do with online identity? Well, to my mind, each platform is like wearing a different costume. It may be that very different identities are created through an online presence on, for example Twitter or Facebook. And each platform may lead you into very different ‘adventures’. So for example, one of my aims in using platforms is establish identity and credibility as a researcher with the academic community, but I would also like to communicate in a way which is accessible to a more general readership.
I am primarily doing this through this blog and using twitter (although I sometimes find it difficult to keep up the momentum on the latter in terms of regular ‘tweeting’). Facebook is, for me, a much more personal way of connecting. I did try to synchronise Facebook and twitter at one time – but it led to a lot of confusion for me about who I was communicating to and why. So nowadays I keep the two accounts separate. I may need to reconsider my Facebook strategy at some stage because this is a valuable way of interacting with the crafting communities, as potential research participants in my study.
Part of my PhD research involves ‘autoethnography’. So alongside interviews with crafters who use digital tools in their own practice, and participant observation of their use of digital tools, I too will maintaining this blog and possibly other platforms in yet another dual identity of crafter and researcher. So you’ll not only be able to chart the progress on my research but you should also be able to follow my own progress as a crafter. My field notes and reflective research diary will provide valuable documentary data of the experience and possible tensions that this might give rise to.
Another complication arises when I consider my multiple professional identities. So for example I work full-time at Warwick University as a Research Development Officer, and am a part-time Postgraduate Researcher at the best of times. In terms of online identities I found this a particular problem with Academia.edu. Whilst other social networking media such as LinkedIn allow you to associate with multiple jobs, this doesn’t seem to me to be possible with Academia.edu. I think this is a shame because my other professional identity is academic-related and I would certainly benefit from making connections through this platform to support the work I do in the day job. Nevertheless I can appreciate that it is unrivalled in terms of facilities to include published academic papers – and in today’s climate that is vital to academic careers.
Nevertheless I think I’ll persevere with it for the time being – particularly as it might even motivate me to write some publications to upload to the site. That’ll be a day when I’m wearing my researcher costume. In the meantime, the shopkeeper has just appeared (as if by magic) and wants me to either pay for the costume or get out of his shop! Until next time then…..