Recently, I’ve spent much time and energy discussing the pedagogical merits of blogging: a practice that supports skills such as social networking; providing and receiving feedback; developing a sense of audience; and creating a searchable, filterable, organizable record of thinking and growth over time. Alan Levine talks about this last benefit all the time – he can trace his learning for decades through his blog. That’s wicked cool.
I’ve been blogging for about 5 years. It’s really interesting to look at how my practice has changed over time. I had some better stories back then, but I’m better at telling them now. More balanced. I’m growing into my blogging and it shows.
However, a couple of nights ago I was searching through old folders on my PC. I was looking for an image that I needed to edit and submit for an upcoming publication. While I was searching (and cursing my lack of organization in the last days of my dissertation phase) I happened across a folder of old avatar pics, some of them as many as five or six years old. My doctoral program was full of opportunities to establish a digital presence. Blogging, tweeting, and Google Plus were required in one class or another, LinkedIn was often encouraged by the faculty, Skype came in handy, and Instagram wasn’t much of a stretch. Furthermore, I presented at plenty of professional conferences and was interviewed for articles.. all of these required pictures or avatars.
Oh, the avatars. The selfies.
Selfies are somewhat controversial among the general population. Some people have embraced them as opportunities to document, empower, or entertain. Others see them as an alarming trend towards collective narcissism and self-involvement. Since I tend to be the photographer of the family, I see them as the only real visual record of my existence in this world (seriously – and I’m not the only one with this problem).
When I look through the avatar folder, I see my graduate school story unfold as clearly as it does in this blog. In fact, flipping through selfies might be a more visceral experience than clicking through blog posts, because the pictures were taken in a moment rather than composed over hours, days, or weeks. When I look at these pictures, I see more than age changes (although there are plenty of those). I see a growing understanding of social media (that first picture on LinkedIn? really? I was a hot mess). I see signs belonging within academic communities (the Howard Rheingold impression). I see confidence in a professional role (never been more in my element than in that picture with my glasses on the top of my head). I see landmark occasions (graduation). I see my kids. I see some pretty significant depression this summer (the third and second to last pictures… I wince a little when I see them and recovery (what a difference a couple months can make). I see me. The avatars help me lay it all out. They aren’t about self-absorption as much as sharing and recording, just like blogging.