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Who Am I, Digitally and IRL?
July 1, 2012 - 8:10pm

Before I start my post, I’d like to sincerely thank everyone who read, commented, and reached out to me after my last post. I have sought help and that blog post was the first step in opening up and being honest about myself both to myself and to the people around me. I still have trouble admitting what I perceive is weakness and asking for help, but that’s getting better, as is the depression; the good days are beginning to outnumber the bad days, even if it is only by a small margin. Again, thank-you for sharing your own stories with me and the other readers. Hopefully, this will inspire others to open up and seek help. 

The rush of the end-of-semester, then the let-down, then the onset of the summer months can often inspire reflection in academics on our classroom practices, our research, and our other responsibilities. Have I achieved a manageable work-life balance this year? (Haha, surely you jest.) How can I make this class work better next semester? What can I hope to accomplish this summer in terms of my research? How am I going to pay the bills (those off the tenure track and/or have 9-month contracts paid over 9-months understand)?

Those of us who blog can also face an existential crisis at this time of the year, especially if the demands of the past semester meant that the blogging output went down. Given the demands of our jobs as academics, why we blog is an important consideration when deciding how and what to prioritize in our lives. Summers are particularly hard for me to blog regularly, in part because I’m not teaching and in part because I concentrate more fully on my research. And, honestly, I get burnt out from 8 months of non-stop teaching/writing/blogging/childcare/etc. My summers are nice because it becomes about my family first and my research, so blogging, while still important to me, can take a secondary role.

This also leads me to re-examine my digital identity more generally. I was playing with this idea of who I am digitally when fellow UVenus blogger Bonnie Stewart led her #Change11 section on Digital Selves. I participated in her online seminar/discussion and it really pushed me to think more about the different performances of myself in my various virtual guises. Initially, I started blogging and tweeting in large part so I could be more like myself professionally than I felt I was allowed to be in real life (IRL) as an academic. My Facebook self, on the other hand, was entirely deprofessionalized; this was where I would keep old friends and family appraised of how the kids were doing, how the banalities of life were moving forward in our small town, away from them.

But a funny thing started happening this year. More and more people who I would consider “professional friends” from Twitter and elsewhere began friending me on Facebook. I started getting to know their kids and families, their banalities, while they got to know mine. On top of that, because of the professional support I received through Twitter and through blogging, and also because of a favorable professional situation, I started to allow myself to be more like my digital self IRL; rather than there existing two halves of my professional self (digital and IRL), I became more like myself regardless of the (professional) situation.

My digital identities, both personal and professional, were initially safe spaces where I could be myself in a way that I internalized I couldn’t be as an academic in higher education. Apparently, I don’t need to divide myself in these ways anymore, at least not to the extreme that I was practicing it previously. So, then, who am I online, and, more provocatively, why do I even need a digital persona at all? Clearly, I blog and tweet (and share pictures of my kids) for more reasons than simply because it’s a policed and politicized part of myself and I am offering resistance; I value the communities I have become a part of, the connections I have made, and the support they provide me, not to mention all of the things I have learned. But the question still lingers in the back of my mind: who am I?

All of this to say, I think I just need to relax, stop over-thinking things, and enjoy the ride.

Morehead, Kentucky in the US.

Lee Elaine Skallerup has a Ph.D. from the University of Alberta in Comparative Literature. She has taught in two Canadian provinces and three States, and is now branching out as an Edupreneur. You can visit her blog at  College Ready Writing and follow her on Twitter (@readywriting). Lee is also a member of the editorial collective at University of Venus.





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