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Better, faster, stronger… why I want to avoid following my digital shadow unquestioningly

This time of year I come across a lot of statistics, from national to organisational or even personal. Most read articles, number of books read, fastest running times in the last year, furthest travelled, most often cited… and that is not even mentioning the academic insights or administrative dashboards that surround you in Learning Technology. No, there is no limit to how many quantifiable insights or measurable achievements work and life can be expressed as, particularly online.

Which is why, when I acquainted myself with my ‘digital shadow‘  recently and put it through a ‘digital detox plan’ I felt like the prompts I was getting online, even the well intentioned ones, led me in the wrong direction. From tracking activities to following feeds, this time of year is dominated by what feels like a race to improve, to do more, better… faster… stronger!

I am not one for new year resolutions, but I think this year I may break with this tradition and resolve not to be seduced by the dashboards, graphs, league tables and charts. This drive to increase, to ensure trends point upwards, is not necessarily where I want to be heading.

Instead of being prompted by the next badge I can earn if I take a few more steps or the citations I may gain if I publish one more article, I’m going to ask myself “why?” first.

If I don’t have a strong reason for doing something, I am going to save my energy for other things. Saying no is a healthy habit I do my best to cultivate and making sure I don’t commit to anything without a good reason should help with that.

I found myself using very few of the hints and tips that the data detox plan suggested. The shadows I cast online are more or less what I expected, manage and largely try to control already. Obsessively updating privacy settings, even the most laborious ones, is probably a good foundation for this kind of process and I am fortunate that I have been doing that for years. Unlike many other professionals I know, I don’t delete old posts from most networks, but I try and ‘clean’ what remains as far as I care to. I am sure I could do better in this respect, but at least I have thought about what I am not doing.

In order to avoid following my online shadow and the myriad of ways in which all kinds of measurements are trying to encourage me to improve, do more etc, my resolution is to take a step back, and start with why.

  • If I track something, does it serve my purpose?
  • Do I need to quantify what I am doing in order to achieve my aims?
  • Do I need to work harder (better, faster, stronger…) to achieve my aims?
  • Even if I can measure it, why am I?

In Anthropology there is an interesting discourse on different cultural understandings of numbers, or the concept of numbers. How we arrive at an understanding of numbers and their values, how this is shared across different cultures and periods in history and so forth. One idea that you come across again and again is that our sense of self, of being an individual, is fundamental to our understanding of ‘oneness’, of there being one thing different from others and that we start counting at one. We take our understanding of being a human being as a starting point for making sense of the world.

My online shadows, particularly if I can track or analyse the traces they, I, leave, can make me feel that my sense of self is becoming more distributed. Having too many opportunities to focus on different things, too many different goals to achieve or milestones to hit can distribute or lessen my sense of why I am doing something, of what is actually important. So this is the direction in which I intend to develop my own critical literacy and skills, this is what I hope my new year resolution will help me achieve – to not follow all the different directions into why my shadows get pulled online without thought or question.