Identity, memory, death and the internet

Lofty title perhaps, but a topic that I’ve been thinking about a lot over the last year + since our excellent colleague, Lee Baber died of lung cancer. A shining light that woman… and one that I’m reminded of every week. Not just in the legacy of good work and good friends that she left behind, but also on the internet. Her name is everywhere. I’ve got her in my skype account, still, she’s in my gmail memory thingy, she’s in a half dozen of my friends lists on different sites. If you a google search for me, or edtechtalk or, well, or alot of things, you’ll see her name. The page linked to above is a fine example of that… a fine person through the eyes of her colleagues. A memorial, like many others created over millenia, it’s just that this one has a different medium than most of its predecessors.

Identity is, for me, things being identical over time. When i think of my own identity i look for those things that are the same in two different incarnations or timestamps and calls those things identical. To say that there is no identity is to say that things aren’t the same, and to look at someone’s identity is to look for those things that are the same over the period you are looking at. The internet makes this both more complicated and less so. There is a sense where it crystalizes your performance of yourself and makes it possible to measure if two performances are identical, and while all things might be performance, it is difficult to think that the premeditated performance mediated through the internet somehow encompasses a ‘person.’

That being said, we are creating this identity in little bits all the time. We leave little trails of ourselves in different places only for them to crystalize when we stop feeding the beast. In Lee’s case… that was her very rapid, sudden death. No time to wrap things up or ‘set things straight’ we are left with a snapshot of her work the day she stopped doing it. There is the possibility for remixing, for reshuffling, for her projects to grow (and this is happening in some cases) but the image we have of her is crystalized in a way that is unique to our particular period in history.

When we talk about students putting ‘stuff on the internet that will stay with them for the rest of their lives’ we sometimes forget, i think, that in our local communities the stuff we do stays with us for the rest of our lives. Our communities allow for growth, they all for things to no longer be identical, for new patterns of behaviour to emerge, for new things to be identical. We adapt for the fact that people ‘grow out of things’ that there is a time and place for each kind of thing. We will, as a culture, adapt to this new memory that we have, this digital memory, and we will no longer worry about such things (any more than we do about the silly things we’ve done in our childhoods are anything more than an injoke in our hometowns (depending 🙂 )

Me and my older brother
Dave Cormier and Stephen Cormier
Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of my older brother’s death. Stephen Cormier was, in my memory, the older brother that little boys dream of. He taught me things, brought me along to the drive even though his girlfriend was going, taught me some tricks with a three-wheeler i probably shouldn’t have known… 8 years older than me, he died at the now ridiculously sounding young age of 22. He was very old and mature to me at the time, but he died 12 years younger than I am now. I remember him mostly in a series of film clips now (or so i described it to bon last night) the time we flipped that three-wheeler and i tried to hide the full length calf bruise from my parents, that drive in, wrestling in the drive way. But i still remember.

Just not in a digital way. Not with the 1600 + photos bon and I already have posted of our kids. The video . The incredible blog posts over at Our grandkids will, barring a worldwide meltdown, KNOW their parents and grandparents in a way that we never did. Identity… particularly in this sense of being able to see how two things are the same over time… and how they are different, is a far more present concept.

I don’t and never have until the last couple of days, thought about his digital identity. About the fact that, for whatever i do online, I have never mentioned that name “stephen cormier” in a blog post or a tweet. His name, to my searching, didn’t exist anywhere. It got me to thinking about Lee and about the good and the bad of our identities online. About the concern that some people have about what kinds of things that people post and how i often warn people that they should be cultivating their online identities. There is a longer, more human thing at work here that I’m reaching for. There is a sense in which we are storing the memories of ourselves, of our friends, of the ways that we are all connected to each other. Of our love.

So. 20 years later. This is my flag in the ground for my long lost brother. cheers.

Being ‘against’ the edublog awards… wait… what?

So I had full intention of ignoring this issue, but it’s simply become too interesting to not discuss a little bit. I’ve also noticed, upon re-reading this post, that I’m a little biased. I beg forgiveness, as I (and others) worked hard on this event, and we do it, for the largest part, for the fun of contributing.

There have been any number of folks who are creating identity by being ‘against’ the edublog awards. There are any number of bits of social commentary hidden inside this expression alone, and in the number of comments as well, but I’ll confine my deconstruction to the discussion held at Doug Belshaw’s blog and while I was going to comment on Downes’ comment on oldaily, the points seem essentially the same. The point here is to assess why people feel the need to be ‘against’ the awards instead of simply not liking them. Why, given the long tail metaphor that most of us like, should people who blog about education feel the need to be ‘against’ something (a duality, usually) rather than observing it as a different cross-section of the community to which they don’t belong.
Doug’s post details three reasons for which he is ‘against’ the edublog awards. I’ll lay out each of his three posts with a little deconstruction along with it.

1. They foster competition instead of collaboration and co-operation

Doug makes a comparison between the Edublog Awards and graded courses that end in a final exam. And claims that, much like these courses, students are encouraged to be competitive rather than collaborative. Well… lets give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he meant to include the idea that the exam course was ‘scaled’ and that not all students could get the top grade. This presumes a monolithic edublog ‘club’ in which the part of the community interested in voting plays the role of teacher, and, given an agreed set of ‘objectives’, that all year that group is measuring wether or not each blog is being ‘popular’ (or say populist) enough to make the ‘top grade’.
In here, also, is the presumption that everyone who was voted for is somehow in this for the award and is just trying to ‘make the grade’ rather than blogging for whatever reason they might be doing so.

So far we seem to have identified a cabal, a populist set of critireon assuring high grades, and a subservient group of bloggers who are ‘blogging to the test’. I don’t think that Doug would agree that he meant this… but these things seem implied to me. If it ‘creates competition’ then the bloggers must be effected… those bloggers are educators, like Doug. Yet Doug and the many who agree with him are not affected. This seems to create a distinction between ‘bloggers who blog all year in order to get an edublog award’ and those that ‘don’t feel the need to do this.’

Who are these bloggers so affected by the Edublog awards? When we take ‘imaginary people who blog to be graded’ down to real cases, it starts to sound a little more insulting. I don’t think that I’m one… and Edtechtalk did win one this year. In the 2 or 3 hundred hours I poured into that community this year (i really have no idea… alot) I don’t think a single decision was affected by my ‘desire to win’. I think it’s quite gratifying to some people in the community that we won… although I never heard any campaigning on the network. I’m sure there are others who don’t care much… haven’t heard from them.

2. They’re promoted by people who have vested interests
For this point, the fact that Josie and James are consultants is apparently the critical issue. (No mention of me or Jeff, Jokay, or the jokadians who worked so tirelessly to build all that cool SL stuff, so maybe our intentions were pure) More specifically, they are being paid as educators who aren’t in a traditional institution. (Interesting note here, one of Josie’s main areas of work as a consultant over the last 18 months has been trying to improve awareness about bullying on the internet.)
I notice that Doug is using a wordpress blog at and this seems like a really great example of how things that are given away for free (wordpress is free blog hosting software, I also use it here) and mostly made by people who are paid to work in software. Should we boycott wordpress because the people who created the software are paid programmers? My friends who develop drupal modules are betting paid consultants for their success. If Lullabot (a drupal consulting company) were to organize and award list… should we be ‘against’ it? How many bloggers out there are not paid, in some way, in the education sphere? I’m a paid consultant, and my participation in edtechtalk has resulted in paying contracts… conference presentations and wonderful prizes (well… maybe not that), but that’s not why I participate. (see Terry Freedman’s “Everyone has a vested interest” in the comments.)
And, as for Warlick’s tip jar, that’s a great idea. But, I believe, he also makes money as a consultant besides. And good on ‘im.

Money, in some people’s minds, poisons everything. Those people in the dirty business of earning it are not to be trusted… by extension, if they were not making money, they would be ‘more’ trustworthy. There is a definite division here between ‘real’ educators and ‘capitalists’ involved in education for purely monetary reasons. I’ve never understood this division, and why Josie should somehow get grouped in with Blackboard because she, occasionally (and not in this case) gets paid for her time devoted towards bettering education.

3. It’s very easy to rig them
Agreed. But, then, every award since the dawn of time has been, in some sense, rigged. This seems to be about being ‘against’ awards generally. In terms of campaigning for votes? If I campaign to have people vote for me, I have claimed a particular kind of identity… it says something about me. What that is, will change depending on who you are. I can understand people saying they don’t like it… but by what standard would people feel the need to claim that this is ‘wrong’.

I’m not sure if this is the ‘i don’t like what’s popular’ popular angle or not… it may just be the thing that was put because Doug wanted three things.

There are some very interesting comments my favourite being from Karl Goddard, who I sincerely hope was joking with his comment “I’m a doer rather than a blogger”… As if all that is done in the bloggosphere is the recycling of the rest of the bloggosphere. This is my favourite identity move, but, of course, he’s saying he doesn’t like blogging… not the edublog awards.

I’ve gotten this off my chest and managed to clear my mind about how I feel about this. Sadly, if you’ve gotten this far it’s probably because you agreed with me to begin with…

It is only natural I suppose, for people to identify themselves around events of import… in a sense it shows that, to some people, the edublog awards must mean something. I think this was my fourth one… and to me it’s a yearly top ten list, some time trying to put together a show that people will enjoy, and some new avenues for exploration… I guess I am ‘for’ the edublog awards. 🙂

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