Radical Doubt and Digital Identity – “Dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum”

I am! I exist! My digital self is me! Do I doubt about digital identity or about myself? Absolutely. What do I really know about my digital self?

As I reflect on digital identity and digital citizenship, I’m waxing philosophical. Descartes, as shared on Wikipedia, explored the deeper meaning of life. The phrase “I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am” prompted this reflection, but Ken Bauer and iTec Semana i Course, 2016 was the catalyst. Descartes postulates that thinking and knowledge results from radical doubt. How does this apply to digital identity?

As I reflect about personal doubts and digital identity, I’m asking myself

  • Is digital persona uniquely different than physical, in-the-flesh identity?
  • How or where do we behave or share our ‘selves’ differently in digital spaces?
  • How do affinity spaces shape my digital presence?
  • Are digital identities a ‘transitional technology’ (Dave Cormier)?
  • Do we own our identity or do we rent or lease a presence in digital space?
  • Is our digital identity enriched as we give away parts of our selves, as we share with others?

meme-to-startI won’t pretend to have the answers to any of these questions. There are doubts in my thinking about digital identity. Some thoughts about digital identity are expressed here.

Personal identity is a transitional technology. Who I am in digital spaces and what I share changes over time. Iterations are inevitable. In digital spaces, I live in perpetual beta! I have littered digital space with bits of myself, my thinking and where I’ve shared digital creates. My identity is shared differently in specific communities, conversations or events. Iterations and permutations or my self exist as I think about what I’m doing, learning or making. John Seely Brown talks about play and tinkering as a way of knowing. Digital identity is a work in progress and I tinker on my presence as I make and remix. In shaping my digital identity I need to be aware of ‘tethered capitalism’ (Belshaw, 2016) and who owns my presence. I’ll carefully consider the costs (financial, reputational, effort) as I transition through digital spaces.

Digital identity is crafted through conversation. Sharp edges of opinions or rock solid thinking is smoothed and shaped through talking and listening to diverse and contrary voices. This happens in physical, face to face places and can be amplified in digital spaces. My identity has shifted as I participate with really smart people. When I listen to dissimilar voices, I accommodate new ideas into my mental schema. As I present or argue in social media, my identity is crafted or renovated. As I collaborate in digital spaces, I become a connector of ideas, people, and resources.

Media matters as digital identity is constructedMarshall McLuhan is known for the phrase ‘the medium is the message’. In terms of my digital identity, the media I chose to create and share will shape the message of myself. My digital voice, personal biases, interests, and distractions will be evident through my media messages. As I share in digital spaces, I need to consider the audience, production and text. Media matters in digital identity to honour and respect digital selves by producing and sharing material that is inclusive, accessible and empathic. For example, when making memes or movies, who’s voice is present or absent, disenfranchised or excluded. Are my audio recordings accessible to all or are hearing impaired persons excluded from my media message. Where and how do I share my intention, bias or explicitly identify the filters I’m using in my media texts? Media choices make my identity open and available if that is my choice.

Digital identity is enriched by being humanly present. I make choices in all social media spaces on what to share and how to share it. Being honest, personable and hospitable is part of my personality and this will come out in digital texts and media. While I’ve become more comfortable sharing my face in image or video, I can certainly understand when others are not. Beginning with a ‘third thing‘ in a blog post or tweet can build a human element to your digital presence. Digital identity does not need to share personal or private information but does need to be personable, relatable and contextual. Digital identity is enriched by sharing the physical, human side of your being. I’ve share my self using a ‘shoe selfie story‘ as a low barrier digital activity to sharing my self in digital space.

Digital identity does not happen in isolation. Yes, you can think it’s all about you, but it isn’t. Your digital identity is a relationship, certainly with your self, but ultimately, it’s in relationship with others. In digital spaces it’s often easier to find your affinity group. James Paul Gee talks about affinity spaces in terms of participatory presence in gaming communities, but it is applicable to all digital spaces where we build relationships. Choices in how and when I shift and move from periphery to central activator within an event, activity or community will redefine my relationship with others. Collaboration shifts my my position within affinity groups. My place in digital networks shapes my digital identity.   It’s important to find your affinity space and participate in some way. These will become your circles of influence, your trusted guides and your personal digital network.

Digital identity is yours to build and control. Digital identity doesn’t just happen – it takes time, effort and attention. Managing a digital identity is important. Starting and building identity doesn’t happen in the short term. Like any project manager knows, you have to have a plan, make selective decisions and manage the work over the long haul. Taking control is the first step. Curating your identity is part of the never-ending process. Uniformity can set your identity as unique in a world full of digital personae – see Amy Burvall’s website or blog as an example of how to select and consistently use design principles in a digital presence. I actively curate my digital makes, creates and productions in order to shape my presence in social media spaces. I monitor and act when issues or responses are required. Be willing to share your work through Creative Commons licensing to build a better internet.

So, back to the philosophy – when thinking about digital identity, doubt can be a catalyst for action. There isn’t any one person actively using the internet and digital media who doesn’t have doubt or faces fear when putting their ‘selves’ out there. Doubt can prompt and shape decisions as you build your identity online.

What are your doubts and how will you overcome them? Who will you become as you reflect on your doubts about digital identity?

“I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am” – digitally me.


Belshaw, D. (2016, Sept 15). Digital Literacy, Identity and a Domain of One’s Own.

Gee, James Paul. (n.d.). Affinity spaces: From Age of Mythology to Today’s Schools.

Bauer, K. iTec – Digital Identity Course site

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8 Responses to Radical Doubt and Digital Identity – “Dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum”

  1. Lori Ruberto says:

    Hi Helen,

    I think your questions about digital “us” vs in the flesh “us” is a great one. I am very happy with the in the flesh me but am hesitant and a little shy with digital me. (those who know me will snicker at the descriptor “shy”.). I too have a smattering of myself in what you call digital space-Facebook, Instragram pictures, texts, liking Tweets but am not established in the sense that I hesitate to put myself out there as you have in for example creating this blog on in depth subjects. Now that I have a blog (as part of an on-line course) I wonder if I will begin to be more active digitally? Do I have anything of worth to share? As you stated, it is all in my control!

    • HJ.DeWaard says:

      Hi Lori. Yes, it’s in your control, but has to connect to purpose and meaningful engagement too! I became more digitally active with a prompt post from Dean Shareski (https://fiveflames4learning.com/2015/01/06/ok-alright-already-a-new-resolution/) but it’s my teaching that becomes the purpose that drives my work.

      Sometimes it just takes a catalyst to get things going. I look for opportunities to keep myself engaging with others in meaningful and purposeful digital spaces. You may like to join into collaborations with the upcoming Digital Writing Month activities (http://www.digitalwritingmonth.com). I’ve been finding two to three ‘events’ like this to keep me interacting in digital spaces – and meeting lots of great people along the way! See my collaboration on CLMOOC (http://clmooc.com) this past summer as an example.

      Blog ON! You do it for YOU!
      Helen 🙂

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  3. Jacob Erdos-Levine says:

    Hi Helen,
    Regarding my own doubts about my digital self, I actually find myself feeling more confident online than I do in real life. This is not to say that I will verbally attack someone online or anything like that, but in real life, I would get very anxious conversing with someone that I do not know whereas online I am far more comfortable with it. Why? That’s an interesting question that I think boils down to the anonymity of some sort. I know people are not as anonymous as they think when in the digital world, but there is still a feeling of “this person cannot see, or hear me” that takes over when conversing with other people online. I think you bring up a good point when you speak of digital identity being crafted through conversation because I think people forget to have open minds in the digital world because they feel they cannot be reprimanded for what they say. To get along within the digital landscape, people must be open to conversing and hearing other ideas because otherwise, we are stuck with toxic message boards or comments (just look at many tweets on Twitter). I wonder though, why is it that anonymity causes us to be more outgoing? What would you say to people that do not have their minds open to contrary voices or opinions?

    • HJ.DeWaard says:

      Thanks for the insights you’ve presented Jacob. In terms of anonymity, that may or may not be the reason that discussion boards or social media becomes toxic. It’s a feeling that there are no consequences for negative conduct or behaviours that would not be tolerated in a physical or face-to-face setting. In a sense, it’s a lack of self-regulation, and citizenship skills, that are a factor in terms of negative behaviours. In the case of being more outgoing, as you described, maybe it’s a feeling of having a space where your voice matters. If shyness is an issue in face-to-face contexts, that issue is removed in digital conversations, so we can become more engaged and engaging with others. Just some thoughts in response to your comment. Helen

  4. Adam Bayes says:

    Good afternoon (or evening or morning) Helen!
    I very much enjoyed your insights into digital persona and look forward to doing a deeper-dive into your blog. I feel I can relate to this doubt mechanic and find I do much more doubting when interacting online versus a face-to-face meeting. I find that being able to witness someone’s body language and fluctuations in speech patterns allow me to better gauge the interaction. I feel more comfortable communicating in person, yet feel extremely doubtful when giving my opinion online. To me, thinking of all the people that can access what I post and are able to critique it, is quite daunting. Like how you mentioned in your post, how you interacted with “really smart people”, seems overwhelming to me, how so many people may judge your work simultaneously. How would someone like me push past this worry and feel confident about what they are posting?
    I too am a part of a few online communities through a website, Reddit, that allows people to connect with each other over shared interest in a subject. Even within those “safe spaces” I feel under qualified to be posting anything regardless of my knowledge base. Is there a secret formula that I need in order to become more digitally secure? Is it mainly just confidence in my own knowledge base?
    I really enjoy reading not only your opinions, but the opinions of others online as well, and I thank you for taking the time to help people like me who still feel overwhelmed with the vastness of the online world. I think continuing my blog might be a good first step!
    Thanks again,


  5. Sarah Thomas says:

    Hi Helen,
    I found myself really reflecting upon my digital identity while reading this and how I am actively and passively building it while interacting online. I find that, much like Lori who commented above, I do not present my whole self online. I filter it depending on the site I am using and who I feel I am presenting myself to. I find this habit common in my peers as well with the common use of “finstas”; private Instagram accounts used to post the pictures that only your closest friends and family can see. While on our public accounts we use filters, editing apps and worry about an aesthetic. Though having an aesthetically pleasing page/site is important to attract an audience, being real and relatable is the only way to keep them. I myself am working to be more comfortable with sharing my life on Instagram as I can go months without posting. Along with this, I want to become more comfortable with sharing a personal blog, that can reflect my personal and teaching life. I find that with creating a blog for the class I have learned that I am capable of doing it, though I have struggled with the technology behind it. My main issue is fighting the concerns and issues I have created in my head to be perfect. At the end of the day being yourself is key to finding people who share the same ideals.

    • HJ.DeWaard says:

      You really have considered the issue from all angles: the “main issue is fighting the concerns and issues I have created in my head to be perfect. At the end of the day being yourself is key to finding people who share the same ideals”. We all want to showcase our best and only our perfect selves, but there is so much to learn when we share our mistakes, failures, and missed opportunities. Others can learn to potentially look past these to the person who is humanly navigating difficult spaces to become better at being themselves. Keep trying. Keep sharing. Keep making it real and authentic. It’s the only way to be true to yourself. Helen

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