Digital Interactions and (Shared) Identity

This blog is very self-absorbed so far, and this post is no exception. My apologies. I’m in a moment of questioning and investigating, in great part inspired by the challenges presented by The Digital Self.

In Personal Connections in the Digital Age, Nancy K. Baym argues that online interactions form (speech) communities, inasmuch as groups have a shared “sense of space, shared practice, shared resources and support, shared identities, and interpersonal relationships” (75). She highlights a few types support systems established by members of online groups, those that provide “emotional,” “esteem,” and “informational”  support (85-86). Members’ sense of community, support, and general in-group-ness, from Baym’s research, range with their level of activity in the group. Lurkers, as we might suspect, tend to derive the least from their (lack of) interactions online.

So, my resistance to online interactions would seem to be self-perpetuating. Of course, it makes sense, and it’s really pretty obvious. By resisting participation in online groups, I miss out on opportunities to find others in my field, as well as others who share my hobbies and interests, with whom I can establish meaningful relationships through writing. Even if I’m “there,” in that space, I’m not a presence, because I haven’t participated in the discourse of the groups, or contributed in any way to shaping the genres or agenda of the groups.

Take, for example, my membership to a professional listserv. Like the lurkers in Preece, Nonnecke and Andrews’ 2004 study, cited by Baym (87), on a per-situation basis, I feel like I get the information I need from the WPA listserv by lurking, I feel shy about contributing to conversations, and/or feel like I contribute by remaining silent. However, I frequently share the conversations and links with colleagues and friends off-list (many of whom are members of the listserv as well, but have the messages filtered out of their inboxes). So, I was the first to read the ongoing conversations about the 2013 Conference on College Composition and Communication: Bedbugs at the Riviera, Humbugs about Las Vegas in General, Bugs in the Proverbial Ear about What Vegas has to Offer, and I have shared these conversations with my colleagues a both through digital and away from screen interactions.

I think I own my WPA listserv membership more than the typical lurker. But, since I never post or respond, few of the group members know who I am or what I have to offer. And that’s pretty typical of me. And, honestly, it is a little bit lonely. And it worries me that somehow I need to be a presence in this and more online spaces by three years from now, when I’m on the job market.

I’m just not into the idea of strategizing my identity and network, though. I like to say that I like relationships to develop organically. So when I feel like I have something to say, I’ll say it. But, if Baym’s observations and resulting assertions are spot on, I’m never going to feel safe, a member of the group, until I put myself out there and say it.