Our authentic self or an avatar?

Should we present our authentic self or should we hide behind our “avatars” in social media and network spaces?
That is a challenging one, especially for many networkers who are representing themselves as avatars, in the immersive learning environment like SecondLife, or as bloggers, visitors to blogs, or as educators in the web etc.
Are you interested in posting your comments with payment only?  Here it is.  Why paying?  Some medias are trying to see if such pay for comments service would influence the way readers would voice their views, and prevent or reduce spams and inflammatory comments be included in the discussion forum.
Why would one need to use avatar(s) to represent themselves in social media or networked learning?This could be a challenging and private question, isn’t it?
Ken has got good points here in his response comment: “Another reason was professional; sometimes it is difficult to offer opinions that might be construed to run against the grain of the organization that one is employed by, and I was overly-cautious about this and hiding behind anonymity made me feel better. Now I don’t worry so much about these things, so anonymity has helped my growth in this area.” That’s a concern not only for professionals, but educators, students as they may still have a long journey in their career paths, and don’t want their private and professional views be “mixed” and be exposed to their employer or potential employer for scrutiny.  This is both a rational and wise decision. Most of us would still need to have a “bright future”, but would like to establish our unique voice in the media, and may worry about how we present ourselves now may impact on our future career, study or learning with others.  This also explains why some educators or “networkers” would prefer to be the “visitors” (masked with fake name or an avatar) leaving with little or no trace in the digital and social media. This is a personal choice…
Ken continues: “We all wear different masks for different social settings.”  However, whether at work or in a personal setting, would this create a dilemma in ones persona, especially in the digital, social and virtual media?  Are our digital persona reflective of our authentic self? Why would we need to disclose ourselves in open space where we could easily be “exploited” by others?  How would we be able to “protect ourselves” without being accused of being untrue to what we say or do?  Can we undo some of the voices we raised in the digital, social or virtual space?  Would avatar save us? Would this be the reason why many educators are not willing to have their social media presence?  The reason for not having their own blogs, or their own voices heard….
For me, as a Catholic, I have nothing to fear, as mentioned in my previous blog post. I have nothing to hide, nothing that prevents me from expressing my true voices, and sayings… May be I am lucky, or may be I am overly confident. Am I wearing my own mask? No!  I am looking for a better future, in everything, by contributing, participating and engaging with social media and networks with my true self.
Here is my previous post on social media and its impact on organisation.
Photo: Flickr Trust me
How about your digital footprint?
In social media, it’s data about us..
How unique are our avatars?
How have we represented in avatars? What are your purposes of using an avatar?  Does it allow you to voice your authentic self in those spaces? Are avatars real?  Can we fully express ourselves with avatars – including your voices and emotions, feelings?
Is it also an important literacy for us – to learn how to identify an avatar that one would use to represent the persona, and understand what’s behind an avatar? Without avatars, or made up names, I wonder how many networkers would like to leave their digital persona or traces on the web.  Or may be most educators won’t be deterred to present their true self.  What do you think?
Just wonder!
Postscript: Enjoy this Welcome to Web 3.0.  Comments?

23 thoughts on “Our authentic self or an avatar?

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Our authentic self or an avatar? « Suifaijohnmak's Weblog -- Topsy.com

  2. Hi John I bookmarked this slideshare presentation just today on this topic of identities online and off transparency and privacy.

    Here are my earlier notes to that bookmark link in Diigo Critlit group.-
    Welcome to Social Web 3.0 http://www.slideshare.net/jdobey/welcome-to-social-web-30

    I’ve been thinking about Ken’s choice of role play within the networks he uses (atleast in MOOCs). And the limitations that networks facilitate for us with our multifacted selves how social platforms do not allow for the variety of personas we present to the world in our varied roles, social interactions…and that for Ken it has been a useful tool, but that I dont feel to go to such a length altho I do appreciate the theatrics of his astute and persistent input. But I know that even in my wish to be transparent or authentic, why would I want to reveal all to my students, or my employer for instance? And texts are open to misrepresentation, editing etc? Even and especially video footage!

    social web 3.0 privacy networks #CritLit2010

    Further thoughts tonight… My thinking has been that there’s beauty in authenticity as things get more and more public atleast there’s a possibility to create a trust network, no guarantees of course that people will stand by one if some indiscretion occurs or public misunderstanding etc. But I sense there’s more safety in transparency in a strange way?

    However now I feel that I cannot say that my digital identity is transparent or authentic nor unmasked because I selectively comment here and there, of course traceable but I choose to expose viewpoints or not? I think of myself as being transparent yet Ken has had me rethinking this!

    I think there’s not a right way nor a one avatar way. Perhaps I can identify with the split personality idea knowing that I can be in two minds myself about things or change my view more often than not. I feel it’s important to embrace the ways that people in the network/classroom feel to communicate and contribute. I truly appreciate both your input and Ken’s to my peer learning model!

  3. Hi Ruth,
    Thanks for your sharing.
    “But I know that even in my wish to be transparent or authentic, why would I want to reveal all to my students, or my employer for instance? And texts are open to misrepresentation, editing etc? Even and especially video footage!” Yes, so true. Can we separate our personal life (voices) from our public life? Why would we need our personal life be “bound” by our professional and public life? Would that be the personal and professional development that we are aspiring to in this life long and life wide journey? Would that also explain why so many other “top professionals” or “top people” and educators don’t want to expose their identities or share their views in public (blogs, wikis, social media (FB, twitter)? Would there be too many political, social, personal and even religious factors involved in this? I don’t think many people have conducted any “substantial and thorough” research on this, as it is simply too “personal” and difficult to do. But, would this be one of the critical reasons why so many professors, educators and learners are still not yet on this road on Web 2.0? Who dare to express if they would later be “censored” or judged to be unappreciative of certain instances that may affect their future study or career?

    “However now I feel that I cannot say that my digital identity is transparent or authentic nor unmasked because I selectively comment here and there, of course traceable but I choose to expose viewpoints or not? I think of myself as being transparent yet Ken has had me rethinking this!” I share this thought, though I must admit that as a Catholic, I see transparent and authentic as a way of Christian faith, that is being true to God, and Jesus. I won’t comment on how other people “should” respond as there are merits and limitations in such “openness” and authenticity as revealed in our research papers (Jenny, Roy and I) presented. There are still many orthodoxes and dilemmas in between openness, autonomy, diversity and interactivity within online courses. Although those characteristics and properties may be ideal for networks, it is seldom easy to achieve in real life. How about the “virtual” community of practice? How many people would like to present their authentic views with their real identity? Would many still be adopting the appreciative inquiry (or a very kind way to express and share their views) in order to “please” others?
    Are there many who would share their views openly with authenticity? There are many like Stephen Downes, George Siemens, Alec Couros, Howard Rheingold, Steve Wheeler, David Jones who are open in their comments, IMHO. There are many others within our “group” or network who share openly too: Jenny, Roy, Heli, Steve, Maria, Benjamin, John, Mike, Cristina, Frances, Matthias, Darcy, Judy, Kristina, and you etc.

  4. Hello John. You seem quite conflicted about this issue. I struggle to understand why. Is it your Christian beliefs conflicting with your desire to perhaps experiment with using an avatar? Do you think you might say something different?

  5. I have no problems in using an avatar. I don’t see avatar a problem by itself, if it is used for protecting oneself from open public or organisation scrutiny. However, I struggle in understanding how one could represent his or her views with numerous avatars, a “split” in personality, in some cases. For instance, if one is expressing the views of an avatar (by saying something positive to another blogger or commenting on the posts), whilst criticising with another avatar (saying something negative), what would be the impact of such thinking on me as avatars (the avatars represented)? How would people perceive such avatars? How would “openness”, “trust”, and relationship be built with such avatars representation?

    Would it lead to split personality? Would people perceive one as a multi-face person, wearing multiple masks? How does it compare with hypocrisy? How does it work out in learning? I just wonder what it means to be communicating with avatar(s), whether it is really representing ourselves. May be if I am afraid of expressing myself in public, or that I am scared of the consequences of any open expressions, I should use an avatar.

    So the use of avatars in such a way doesn’t seem to align with my Catholic faith.

    How does this sound to you?

    I know many others like to use Avatars in their online conversation, and I would like to learn their views on this too.


  6. Split personality? Like some form of disease? I think that is humourous.

    How is it hypocritical to try to look at issues from different perspectives, especially if one has an open-mind and is not convinced of any one perspective? Even without presenting the perspectives through avatars, I may agree with you today, and disagree with you tomorrow. Is that hypocritical, in the context of discussion about concepts?

    Representing different perspectives using different avatars is not a split personality, in my view. I feel whole. Avatars, like the web, are a tool.

  7. Hi Ulop,
    That may be fine in the internet. However, do you think this would work at work? I mean if one were to experiment and look at things or issues from different perspectives, this is perfectly fine. But what if we open up such a scenario: “using one avatar to agree and that using another avatar to disagree”, don’t we see this as an issue – as both avatar is from that person, but conflicting with oneself?
    May I share an ancient Chinese story? There was once a hawker selling spears and shields on the street. One day he promoted his products in front of a large crowd of people. “Here, I have the best spears in the world, that could penetrate any thing that is hardest in the world.” Then he continued: ” Here, I have the best shields in the world, and no weapon can ever penetrate through them.” There was a man who was listening to his promotion and asked curiously:” My friend, you have got the best shields and spears in the world for sale, may I ask what would happen if you pierce this spear to the shield?” The hawker was dumbed by the question.
    So, what was the moral of the story?
    If one is representing multiple avatars, agreeing and disagreeing with oneself on different grounds, at different times, may be with certain “logical reasons” but conflicting ones, would it be the same concept used by the hawker in the shields and spears story?

    I don’t know what it would translate when it comes to integrity in the workplace. As an educator, as a Catholic, I think these could be the concerns when educating and learning in the web, so when people translate such learning in the workplace later in life, they would find big problems with their integrity, would they?

    We may argue that it is perfectly fine to use avatar as a tool to express, to criticise on the web, that is perfectly fine. However, would we need to share these aspects of using avatars with our fellow educators and learners and the associated implications?

    Relating to agreement with you today and disgreeing with you tomorrow, that is an interesting point. Yes, that could happen and is fine.

    I agree with you that discussion about concepts is not hypocritical. The hypocrisy that I am referring to is when one falsely pretending to be virtuous (having or showing moral virtue) and that is in fact insincere.

    I agree with you that “Representing different perspectives using different avatars is not a split personality, in my view. I feel whole. Avatars, like the web, are a tool.” Only when it is used in the extreme that I think that could lead to issues I mentioned.

    If you have a look at lots of comments on Youtube videos or in 4Chans, you could easily find tens to hundreds of mature, negative comments and criticisms (even curses with foul language) expressed by “avatars” or “anonymous”. I don’t want to generalise, stereotype, and judge as there are many great comments there too. That is just my observation.

    So, I raised these for the sake of sharing and learning, and with no intention of being judgmental. I appreciate people experimenting using different means on the web, as I am trying this too. Just have to think more deeply what all these mean in the virtual space….

    With renewed thanks to your insights.


  8. >But what if we open up such a scenario: “using one avatar to agree and that using another avatar to disagree”, don’t we see this as an issue – as both avatar is from that person, but conflicting with oneself?

    I don’t see an issue, there is no existential conflict, merely discussion perspectives. Do you never debate with yourself about something?

    And I don’t think the spears and shields story is applicable. Do you really believe that people only have one face at work? I’ve never seen that.

    One thing I do know, you take this all very seriously. Why so serious?

    >So, I raised these for the sake of sharing and learning, and with no intention of being judgmental.

    But being judgemental is exactly what you are being. Your comments are full of judgements, including religious ones.

  9. Hi Ken,
    Thanks for your further sharing and wonderful insight. I could understand your points – not an issue. Do I never debate with myself about something? I can’t say “never”. I think.

    You have got an important point here. Do I believe that people only have one face at work? No. I have seen many indeed.

    I look at these from different angles, and try to understand possibly from other’s views. I could be judgmental with religious belief, but I hope that has not impacted on others. It is still my perspective only.

    I agree that there are differences in views, whether it is online or at work, as “we” are all coming from different backgrounds. This also brings us towards an interesting topic on educational ethics, the use of avatars and how we look at these from different cultural, religious lenses.

    As shared, I don’t take any of these personally, and I don’t intend to be judgmental. This applies to learning, online or offline, and at work. Sharing of true feelings, rather than masking would help in further understanding. And I greatly appreciate our honest sharing here.

    If you perceived my comments are full of judgments, may be that is due to my religious background. I would surely reflect on it.

    What sorts of story may reflect the multi-faces of people online or at work? Any interests in sharing them?

    Have we opened up an interesting topic? Not serious this time! 🙂


  10. Hi John I appreciate your humility in taking on board Ken’s observations! Especially concerning your religious alliance and judgements. That is truly courageous and inclusive of you. The evergreen student that you are. This enables you to be the teacher-by example. Thanks.

    My own experience is that it is the nature of my mind to judge-unless it is still, which only happens in meditation, peak experiences, relaxation/healing.

    So the un still mind judges…it is just what we do-no judgement, just is! We are not our judgements nor what others judge-but identification with our thoughts makes us reduce ourselves to these small selves, diminishing our relations with others let alone the entire cosmos.

    Spiritual identities “I am spiritual” all these are masks, so long as the active mind is saying one thing whilst trying to behave in another-we are human! We judge ourselves and separate (split) from what’s actually happening (I am judgemental). We avoid ourselves (I am judgemental and I shouldn’t be) and so it becomes unconscious and others see it clearly , but we ourselves only see it in others. I find every time I point the finger when I’m honest with myself I can find that same quality inside of me.

    I use The Work of Byron Katie (www.thework.com) as a meditation to help me when I get stuck in identification with my judgements, (“they are blabla, I am blabla”). I’m certainly no saint, but with practice it does help to clear some fog-relationships shift in surprising ways. I know John you already have your path and your tools and I believe you are actively using them. I’m sharing mine not for you to use them-such tools are very individual-please know just to share what works for me and where I’m coming from-my reasons perhaps and my source. (And I know too we have already shared a discussion on ‘forgiveness’.)

    Thanks too Ken it’s a good conversation!

  11. Thanks Ruth for your kind words. I greatly appreciate your open sharing and love to learn too. I like your reflection on the tools, and how meditation has helped you in the identification of your judgments. We have been “educated” to be judgmental since we were young, consciously and unconsciously with our parents, teachers, classmates, friends, colleagues. Judgment seems ubiquitous at this digital age, in news, social media – blogs, articles, videos, and so I think it would be a good learning for us to reflect on its significance on our life. As the society is also ruled under an judgment system, we believe it is just to judge, isn’t it? Is it an uncharted water that we could explore?

    May I share this further? In Judging Others (Luke 6:47-38, 41-42) from Bible “Do not judge others, so that God will not judge you, for God will judge you in the same way as you judge others, and he will apply to you the same rules you apply to others. Why, then, do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, and pay no attention to the log in your own eye? How dare you say to your brother, “Please let me take that speck out of your eye,’ when you have a log in your own eye?”

    I like to reflect on this. Saying is easy, doing is difficult…….

    This sounds critical to many people, as I understand it, as it could be interpreted as the use of a message of Bible to influence others, and judge.

    The Ask, Seek, Knock in Luke 11.9 – 13 provides a light refreshment to life struggles:
    “Ask, and you will receive; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you….How much more, then, will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him! Do for others what you want them to do for you…”

    I pray that we could all be blessed to walk the walk and support each other on our life-long learning journey, not the “blabla” in “judgment”. Thanks again for helping me to avoid that, if ever possible.

    Would that be the humane side of the virtual space conversation?

  12. I would like to echo Ruth’s comment about your humility in addressing my observations. Very well expressed. I think John that you do a great job in modelling the good teacher, as Ruth says.

    That is my judgement. (sigh) I can’t escape judging…my eye is full of logs!

    Yours in humility and humour…..

  13. Hi Ken,

    I am totally impressed with your patience and understanding throughout our conversation. It is also my great pleasure to acknowledge your views, making me think deeper on what it means when sharing and conversing with people online, and the sensitivity needed when judgment is involved. That’s also my owing to you.

    Let any praise be to my (our) God, who created us, when it comes to praises. I could see my weaknesses through the lens of all of you, that helps me a lot.

    Thanks again Ken and Ruth for your sincere sharing. My tears are dropping….


  14. Pingback: Judgement Day « Ken's World

  15. Thanking “Ulop” for the comment. It put a big missing piece on it’s place – a piece missing in my MOOC thinking. “Using avatar’s is a tool”.

    MOOC’s are a new thing and clearly seeking formats and finding patterns differing from the way we’ve got too used to think – “the way learning has always been”. Experimenting things is the way to proceed and make choices.

    I’ve clearly made one choice and that is communicating, interacting and co-operating with real people. Transformative and emancipatory learning form the foundation of my world view. Both emphasize becoming your true self and supporting your networks in their corresponding processes.

    I haven’t got the time or interest to deal with a group of participants of who I can’t know if that particular comment was said by a person, a hammer, a screwdriver or…

    As all tools, also avatars can be useful. In my case they caused me taking distance from the virtual interaction and starting to put my full energy on recreating the pipe – recreating my contexts and contextualizing the process. After two years I’ve started to get responses from real people. That’s why I originally wanted to learn the MOOC world – to face real people to start new learning innovation projects with. The process is and has been very interesting and demanding – it’s actually about making myself visible and real. That’s what I expect from people within (my) emergent networks as well. Can processes be emergent and truly produce something worth while if some participants are tools?

    There’s a week with the theme “Tools” arriving within a month on PLENK2010 – looking forward to learning new aspects on utilizing avatars for improving the real life and learning.

  16. Thanks Irmeli,
    I like your articulation of tools with avatars. “The process is and has been very interesting and demanding – it’s actually about making myself visible and real. That’s what I expect from people within (my) emergent networks as well. Can processes be emergent and truly produce something worth while if some participants are tools?” That sounds like Actor Network Theory with participants as actors mixing with the non-human actors (the tools). Like to see how these avatars for improving the real life and learning too. In fact in SL, I reckon everyone is an avatar more like a real person, though there might be real “breathing” behind the scenes. Actually, one could use Android or robots (artificial avatars) in SL that sounds like human, just like any virtual game, and you couldn’t distinguish them. I have been treated like that in SL on a few occasions, where an avatar invited me to join their course (for a fee for service) but I could understand that it was pre-programmed, as any questions asked will prompt similar responses – with a link given to you to join and continue – and pay the fees. Lol.

    Thanks Irmeli for your response. A gift for me.

  17. I’ve practiced using avatatar on some web courses with the following setup:
    As courses have been for academic credits, there have been real participants only – so no need to think who really exist… There’s been a case / problem to be solved and all participants have been given a role – e.g. to represent behaviourist, humanist… learning perspectives and insist on going your way and widely reason why. – That for sure brings more insights to the case and gives a lot of material for pre-reflection together as real people. I also accept SL and other games when we are there as one avatar and our real life info is only one mouse click away if needed.

    I’m very keen to learn more of using sociodrama in learning and the above ways could be used in the web. Dave Cormier mentioned in the end of the first #edfuture that virtual team drama could be one way to proceed during the next course. Looking forward…

    It’s confusing that a Finnish professor of economy Alf Rehn said that switching identity upon to which purpose it is used and needed is the only way people will act in the web in future. He also said that the generation that’s 14 year old now will not know any other way when they are adults and that we should beware or at least be prepared when they enter managerial position within 15 years. – For sure there’s a whole new literacy to be learned.

  18. Yes, that would be interesting to learn about sociodrama. I think we have often tried that in face-to-face workshop, where each one is representing a particular “group” like Michael’s ethnography class – with groups representing a new nation (or country) that would exist in the new world, and imagining how they would reign or rule the world.

    This sounds useful if the learners are undergraduate students, but I couldn’t be sure if academics and scholars would try these. I reckon some educators would like games, whereas others who are theorists would doubt about the values of games as learning vehicle. It just depends on the context and the topic – like in the future of education, scenario planning is really pushing the boundaries and require lots of research to make it meaningful. It could be fun, but if it is based on vague ideas and outdated data (over abundance of data), then I think lots of educators would cast doubts on its true value. In this connection, many educators are pragmatists, and they want practical solutions, not some interesting ideas.
    However, we might like to imitate what Einstein had done, being more exploitive and innovative, like his conception of Theory of Relativity, which was awesome. This is what makes education and learning fascinating in MOOC, isn’t it? Everyone turns into an Einstein? LOL 🙂
    In this Social Identity Theory http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_identity#Social_identity_theory, it mentions about how one’s identity could be perceived under different context, or that one may change from one to another identity when immersed in a different social environment. I reckon that this relates to the adaptation required in order to survive and thrive in certain environment. So I am not sure what Finnish Professor of Economy Alf Rehn claim that switching identity upon to which purpose it is used and needed is the only way people will act in the web in future is based upon. Do teens know how to switch their identity? Do they need to be “taught” or could these be learnt by those teens or digital natives? Would these identities emerged out of the networks that these teens are associated with? “Even people who were anonymous in discussions were being influenced by group identity”, as evidenced in the experiments. This rings true when we noted many comments posted on Youtubes (as anonymous) which may be critical and cynical, but then soon such comments would be influenced by others who posted similar or opposing views. When the group members emerged out of the conversation, especially the in-group (within networks) they tend to develop their own norms, and identity that separates from others, that represents the individual and the group.

  19. What made me most doubtful re. Prof. Rehn’s comment was that he reasoned it by saying that the rising generation has their whole life been surrounded by the owerwhelming opennesses of networks. So they’ll simply not know any other way. – But, but… bullying and loneliness are according to researches an expanding problem within the youth. So, will switching identities (and never being yourself) actually become a way of surviving when everything is too open?

    One very valuable thing I see in role plays and drama for top management and scholars as well is that they really can put some thinking barriers aside. As you say, they want practical solutions. That currently means that 15 years may not be enough for getting an idea into practice. People want to wait and see if things according to researches work in practice. They want someone else to serve the solution on a tray, not test by themselves. For this switching thinking process MOOCs are / will be great. And again, many people who would currently have the power to implement and test MOOC procedures in their own organizations say that we must wait until the disadvantages have been researched…

  20. Yes Irmeli that rings for me that what is right for one is right for them and quite different for another. I feel that people can choose and so they will. It is not right nor wrong it is preference. The next generation will preference yet again.fascinating!

  21. Yes, Ruth it is also about choice. The next generation will prefer “preference” more than ever. Would they find their identity aligning with their groups that they belong to? “This meant that people acted as group members as well as individuals. Their central idea was that behaviour and identity operated on a continuum based on situation, ranging from the highly individual and unique at one end (purely interpersonal), to the collective and common at the other (purely intergroup).” as mentioned here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_identity#Social_identity_theory
    So what are the implications of such way of “open” thinking? As Irmeli mentions here: “many people who would currently have the power to implement and test MOOC procedures in their own organizations say that we must wait until the disadvantages have been researched.” Should we wait for the next generation to apply those concepts? What could we gain by such experiment? What would we lose if we apply them in organisation?

  22. This post on social media policy sounds interesting http://nateriggs.com/2010/12/03/mike-brown-social-media-policy/
    So what is the best way to blog or post, based on these social media policy? What criteria would you use if you find conflicts between what you want to share and what is advised in the policy? As I shared in my posts, think thrice before posting, but, whatever you post in your blog, there are risks involved. Reflection on how and what you feel and perceive through blogging would help yourself to understand better about yourself. So, if you find the policy too limiting for your expression, think about blogging privately or through private message, instead of making it open. Would that be the choice you could have? As a Catholic, I don’t worry about how others would perceive me, with social media policy, as it is my God who would judge me, when I go back to Him.

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