3 October 2013

Shackled to the Web

AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

In the early days when the Web became more accessible to the general public, the common advice to learners was to never to give out their personal details and information for the sake of their safety. Roll on 2013 and this reality has changed dramatically. A generation who has grown up with the digital world now faces other challenges. From Facebooking to sharing on Instagram, their lives are open, public and traceable. 

As an adult, my digital life is equally traceable. I am regularly surprised with how strangers will check my LinkedIn profile, with people who will google me (and then tell me how surprised they were after they did google me, yet offer no explanation or context). And so the question arises: Who googles you? For what purpose?

Bear with me as I turn back in time:  I was already a young adult when the Web became accessible to the public.  When I was growing up, there were no smartphones, no iPads, no digital mobility. If I stepped out of line, my parents would perhaps,  receive a phone call and matters would be dealt with in private, within the family.  Learning began at home. My teens years belong to a disappeared world , where privacy was respected and practiced. A world where teens were advised about accepting lifts from strangers, to be respectful to their teachers, and sexual education was left to the parents. A world where parents (still) shared many social concerns and points of references My teens years, with their follies, joys and adventures of growing up,  belonged to a world solely analogue.

Not so today.

October celebrates Digital Citizenship Week (October 21-25th) and as in previous years, it is worth the time to introduce this topic in classrooms. Not because students are unaware of the risks that over-sharing may bring, but to openly and safely discuss the many issues which are related to being a digital citizen. As a generation who has grown up with the digital world, todays' millenials must deal with a range of realities which are, still, socially new and with which they are slowly coming to terms with. 

From netiquette to cyberbullying, from creating an online persona to degrees of sharing, teens often find themselves at a loss when their Web practices turn against them.  The video below, is just one example:

Teens suffer a myriad of digital anxieties which are equally new in our lives today. From being digitally accepted on social networks  (e.g. Am a pretty enough? Am I popular enough?) to making options of how much to contribute to online worlds, their digital footprints will be one of their strongest inheritances.  Their off-line and on-line worlds blend, mix and influence each other in ever flowing streams. If growing up in an analogue world was challenging for teens in the past, today's growing generations must juggle two worlds -  one which will be there forever.

I can only hope that as they grow older and slip into positions of power (e.g. selecting candidates for jobs), they will also be creating a more gentle, kinder world;
a world where there is more understanding for the growing pains of being a teen caught in analogue and digital dimensions.

Until then, raising awareness of their digital profiles and practices should be an integral part of any classroom today.

References and further Suggestions:

Digital Delights - Digital Tribes - (through the "Find" box to locate articles, posts and videos on Digital Citizenship)

Putting Our Best Footprint Forward -  Susan Lucille Davis

Social Media in Education - Resources for Educators and Schools

Staying Safe Online - Resources for Educators


Images are by Nick Gentry. You can find a selection of his work here


  1. As a high school teacher and mother of teenagers, this is an ongoing topic in our home. From the time when our daughters first created online identities in Club Penguin to their first facebook and Instagram accounts, we have had discussions at home about their digital footprint, online presence and online safety. It's so hard to keep up with some of the changes, but at the same time, the guiding principles of, "would you be embarrassed for Grandma to see that?" and "Would you say that to him/her in person? If not, then don't say it online either" have been at the base of these discussions.
    I like what you say about the hope for a kinder and more forgiving world that our digital natives must create. It's an interesting perspective when so often we hear about cyber-bullying and what may seem like a more detached and harsh reality. I too hope that our students and our children will find ways to reconcile their digital identities with their actual ones - because, really, aren't they both very, very real?

  2. Hi Jennifer,

    I understand your concerns completely; there are always risks and keeping our children/students safe is a priority. And yes, it is challenging for many parents and that is why I think education needs to take an active role when it comes to digital citizenship/digital footprints.

    The consequences of cyber-bullying are serious - much more serious than when I was a youngster on the playground. On the other hand, we now have generations who have and are growing up with the digital world, having to make decisions that many before them didn't need to when they were young. For instance, in a social network, who does one friend or not? And what will be the consequences? From sexting to choosing which platform to communicate with (e.g. voice, SMS, FB or other), to how much time one should dedicate to networks, these are now added decisions and often worries for younger generations.

    Navigating all the subtle boundaries in digital worlds takes time and mistakes are part of the process. That is why I truly hope that the coming generations may be more forgiving, more understanding and not so quick to make judgements on those who are learning.

    And yes! As you well say, both analogue and digital identities are very real :-)

  3. Te felicito Cristina por tu sitio y tu post. Apoyo abiertamente una línea de prevención, pero también de promoción de la salud de los menores en sus prácticas culturales y digitales. Será el núcleo del próximo foro social en el congreso de Madrid con la FAD y el espacio Telefónica.

  4. Gracias Jose! Everybody's identity belongs to the web today; a whole generation (and more) have given their lives to Facebook (for example). Managing identities, degrees of digital comfort and personal safety are very real concerns for all.

  5. Being a digital natives and teaching digital etiquette has been a big topic in many of my education classes. Especially with technology so accessible to students, I think they get caught up in it and forget how public it actually is. The part in your post where identified how students have to balance 2 worlds, one of which will be with them forever, reminded me of a recent encounter I had in one of my classes. In this class we are playing a simulation game with middle school and high school students where everyone is assigned a famous person, popular historical figure, or activist. There is a court case at hand, and together from all different time periods and moments in history, these characters interact with each other to talk about the case. Since the students are portraying other people in this game, it isn't unusual that they act out of their personal character when responding to things. However, within the first week we had problems with a student going too far and pushing his limits of online etiquette. I bring up this point because I think it is a good parallel to how many students probably view their online profiles - they are someone else. I think it is a common misconception that because what they say and do aren't a part of face to face conversations but their online persona, that makes it okay. So your point about the need to educate that both worlds exists, I believe is vital. Although one world is so-called "real" and one "digital" they can have the same effects and students need to understand this part of native to this digital world. It only makes sense that because technology is a large part of education today, that students partake in discussions about being responsible with their technology. Thanks for sharing all those resources!

  6. Hi Megan,

    Thank you for taking time to visit and to share; there is also another aspect regarding googling oneself or another - try googling on another device. It's interesting that different users may see different results. I think that this too is something students should be made aware of.

    Virtual worlds/cyberspace worlds are real and part of everyone's lives today. Even in the most remote areas of the world, it only takes 2-3 hours to reach an internet connection. With digital mobility on the increase, digital worlds don't seem to be a mere "passing" fad.