Tag Archives: identity

The Evolving Narrative



What happens when you offer up your narratives to virtual online communities? By narratives, I am not referring to your life stories or the highlights of your weekends. Instead, I am referring to the evolution of a thought pattern; an ongoing series of thoughts you might engage in on any certain topic, whether it be celebrity gossip or economic game theory. Virtual communities ask us to take a stand, to declare something as interesting and expose our half baked ideas aloud. They welcome us to visibly and obviously struggle with the “validity” of our own opinions. Online communities ask us to be vulnerable – and that is inherently threatening.

When we throw these ideas out beyond the safety of our own computer screens or controlled audiences, they become free to others to tweet at, blog about, contradict and champion. Like the Free Box in Telluride, Colorado, which is one of the largest and more comprehensive community donation spaces I have ever seen, our written artifacts become open to the creative interpretation of others. The Free Box has been around since the 1970s serving as a place for people to offer up artifacts of their past, pieces of their own identity, to the world at large. Once deposited, the original owner cannot control a coveted t-shirt of their favorite band being torn and sewn into a quilt or used by an youngster who doesn’t understand the significance and glory of the band for a Halloween costume. We offer our ideas for others to try on, mix and match and use as a means to anchor their next narrative. 


(Source: http://gazette.com/proposed-store-would-have-a-twist-everything-is-free/article/140162)

Julian Stod beautifully discussed on his blog the organic life cycle a narrative takes once released into the world.   

The narrative is important, the words that surround it less so. The meaning is what will persist if it is relevant and clear, so when we craft our stories, like posters on a wall, they need to be clear, but we have to recognise that they will move out of our control. And, eventually, they will weather and fade, becoming simply the foundations for the next chapter that is built upon them.”

Tanya Lau demonstrated that process as she wove together the ideas of many in the KM community and as a result quilted together a beautiful poem. Tanya’s offering, while perhaps grounded on some ideas of others, is pure and individualized, a unique and beautiful creation of it’s own that projects a voice, perspective and narrative into the blogosphere.  So yes, while there is the so called threat that your words can become part of another person’s narrative, that is where all the fun lies. And more importantly – it is where all the growth happens.  

Ultimately, we aim for our narratives to not only project our own identities, but more importantly identify with others. In the words of John Steinbeck, “A great lasting story is about everyone or it will not last. The strange and foreign is not interesting–only the deeply personal and familiar.”


The evolving online identity

I am

Identity is an issue users struggle with across all online communities. Perhaps one reason for this is because more often than not, online identities are a crafted attempt to attract others.  While not always the case, often an online identity is an attempt to create some form of community or personal learning network rather than stand as a individualistic expression of our own identities.  For example, Twitter allows us 140 characters to define ourselves and identify the community we are trying to reach. Those few characters, the avatar picture we choose and the tweets we send out are strong determinants not only of who we are, but also of how we hope others to see us.  However, they are identities that may or may not be completely representative of our “real life” selves.

We create online identities with a purpose, yet virtual online communities provide the inherent flexibility and space for these identities to evolve and change. In regards to the identities employees choose in corporate online communities (such as a company intranet) Brown & Dugiud (2001) present an interesting and forgiving insight. “Work identities . . . are less something mandated by structure or dictated through culture, and more something that participation actually helps create” (p. 202).  In other words, it’s the act of participating and engaging that actually verifies the integrity of an online identity, rather than the credibility of the 140 characters next to your photo.

In my first post, I wrote, “I love that I am a constant work of progress.” While online virtual communities make erasing the past impossible, they provide us with the flexibility to explore. We can change our minds, shift our focus and mingle with different networks, altering our identity with every interaction should we choose. We must acknowledge that identities are shaped by our present interactions more so than the documented accomplishments of the past.  We are supposed  to be changing, evolving – that’s how we move forward. In order for individuals to be willing to embrace the vulnerability of online communities and establish virtual identities, communities must present a psychologically safe space that recognizes that the integrity of one’s opinion first and foremost lies in the act of participating, rather than being “right”.