As part of my graduate coursework this week, I was assigned to do a Google search on myself, in order to determine my digital footprint. I was both delighted and dismayed to discover that I have next to no Google-able footprint. Delighted because, as a digital non-native, the idea of anyone in the world being able to discover large amounts of information about me (even innocuous information that I wouldn’t think twice about sharing if asked) with a few clicks on a keyboard is still a little mind-blowing, and dismayed because, while I myself am apparently hard to find online, there are plenty of others with names similar to mine who readily appear, and most of these people do not appear to be people I want to be mistaken for. It appears that arrest and prison records come up fairly easily on Google (and Bing, and Yahoo). It also appears that my name is way more common than I think.
My Google search experience may not be the same as someone else’s. As Eli Pariser pointed out in a 2011 TED talk, Google search results are based on many things, including who you are, where you live, and what websites you visit. It is entirely possible that my digital footprint is more prominent than I am able to discover on my own. This concerns me, as I am not entirely comfortable with the idea of an algorithm I have had no hand in creating deciding what I really want to see when I do an internet search, nor of, as Pariser puts it, “a world in which the internet is showing us what it thinks we want to see, but not necessarily what we need to see” (TED, 2011). This gives access to pleasing content, but not to growth. I get a comical but clear reminder of this whenever I make an Amazon purchase and am promptly bombarded on other websites with ads for the thing I just bought. For some items, like LED light bulbs, this might make sense, but I am not sure how many 7-foot round jute rugs the Google and Amazon algorithms think I am likely to purchase in the near future, now that I have one. It feels both invasive and a bit dehumanizing at the same time.
I suspect my digital native students are less bothered by this, first because most of them likely have much larger online presences than I do, and second because they have never known anything different; to many if not most of them, their digital footprint is simply an extension of themselves, with little or no differentiation between their physical and digital selves.
My coursework this week also involved thinking about these two different perspectives, and considering them in the context of digital citizenship. One result of this work is the video below, in which I consider the impact of the advent of mobile devices on digital citizenship, both at present and moving forward.
This week has given me a lot to consider when it comes to bridging the technological divide between myself and my students. And that is the vital first step.
TED (2011, May 2). Beware online filter bubbles | Eli Pariser [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B8ofWFx525s