Through the use of personal learning networks, people have become much more connected to each other and have access to vast amounts of information. Technology has altered the way we are learning, searching, accessing, maintaining, and using this information. We have new ways to learn and work with others, to generate and exchange ideas. Social media and the Internet allow us to put ourselves out there, to step out into the public sphere for the first time, maybe. By blurring the lines between the public and private spheres, we find ourselves at the center of an incredibly influential online and in-person network.
Learning goes beyond the confines of the classroom; it is also something we do together through social media. Using social media, we can find people with similar interests and come together to share information. For this reason, social media is one of the most collaborative places. These new online spaces have transformed networking with sites like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram, as they are excellent tools to broaden and deepen our connections with others. As citizens of online spaces, we now have a responsibility to seek out people who share the same ideas as us, who can enhance our understanding of the topics we are interested in. Through tags and forums, we can easily make new connections with specific groups of people. There are also many opportunities to explore topics unrelated to us, to expand our horizons, and learn more about the world we live in.
These online spaces allow us to merge our personal and professional identities. This can make it easier to connect with others, as we have access to details such as our personal interests. For this reason, it is now very important to consider our digital identities when we post something on public platforms. This is a topic that educators address with students at a young age, as we begin to access public online spaces much earlier in life. When a new mother posts a photo of her baby, that child now has a social media presence that cannot be erased. The same is true for 10-year-olds using Instagram. Students are often reminded of the permanence of the online world. They are encouraged to consider how their future would react to their posts on their social media platforms. On the other hand, this means that we can easily decide how we want to be perceived by others. Fortunately, nothing happens in real time, so we can review the content we want to share and think about our intentions at the same time.
Increasingly, people and businesses are interacting online, and digital identity is at the core of these relationships. How we build these interactions and use digital identities determines how people are presented online, what opportunities they have available to them, and what (or who) is trusted online. While it is quite common to connect in this way in our part of the world, it is important to ensure that the opportunities associated with digital identity are widespread. We must also consider the robustness of digital identities by ensuring that they provide access to worthwhile opportunities, keep people and their data safe, protect against discrimination, exclusion, and harm, and allow people to exercise control over the use of their identity and the data associated with it.
Digital identities are not only useful in Western, business-centric spaces. They can also provide essential services to diverse groups of people. For people who travel and cross borders frequently, digital identities can be very useful. Those who immigrate often use a piece of paper that can be misplaced, destroyed, or taken as their only form of identification. Having a digital ID is necessary for all services related to education, health, and record keeping. However, it is important to develop a set of norms that allow for the expansion of digital identification across a variety of platforms and applications. To stay in line with ethics standards, there is a need to adapt and push for ethical standards when thinking about how this technology is evolving. Historians, ethicists, and philosophers need to be involved in the process to ensure that the development of the technology is done in a way that guarantees that it is used ethically.
The last point I want to address is the issue of privacy. For digital identities to really take off, trust is necessary. It comes from control, from privacy, from agency, and from knowing that the data and identity that people register for will not be taken advantage of. It is imperative that we strike a balance between safeguarding and building the confidence necessary to make these systems fully functional. It is also important to understand what matters to an individual’s sense of empowerment. People have a right to privacy, and policies should be in place to allow individuals to control and manage the flow of data and decide how they want to share it. It is critical that the public has confidence in where their information is kept and who has access to it, as one’s digital presence is such an important part of everyday life. These online social spaces are essential to our personal and professional networks, and we need to empower people by enabling them to share in a way that doesn’t negatively impact themselves or others in the community.
Rajagopal, K., Brinke, D. J., Bruggen, J. V., & Sloep, P. B. (2012). Understanding personal learning networks: Their structure, content and the networking skills needed to optimally use them. First Monday. https://doi.org/10.5210/fm.v17i1.3559
University of Derby. (2016, November 25). Eric Stoller – What is Digital Identity? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u0RryRbJza0
What is a Personal Learning Network (PLN)? (n.d.). FutureLearn. Retrieved 15 September 2021, from https://www.futurelearn.com/info/blog
World Economic Forum. (2019, February 5). Davos 2019 – Press Conference The Value of Digital Identity for the Global Economy and Society. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1-V7lyxrOmw