Thursday, 23 April 2009

Status Updates and Digital Identity

I have often blogged about language here and its uses on the Web and in e-Learning. While I have always been to some extent self-conscious about the kind of language I use on this blog (ie. what voice I project, what kind of identity this entails) my uses of Twitter, Facebook and have forced me to re-think what appears here.

Since using (which I blogged about previously) to update my status on Facebook, Twitter and this blog simultaneously, I have had to think a lot more about what status actually means.

Traditionally of course, status referred to something like class or one's ranking in society and I'm sure that definition still holds. In the new Web 2.0 sense of the word though, status refers to one's present state of activity, either in-the-world or on-the-web, and as such tends to give a microscropic view of the person's condition:
Rob is looking forward to a glass of Montepulciano
as opposed to traditional status which would be macroscopic:
Rob works at a bank and earns over £100,000 a year
The first example given above isn't necessarily typical however. That might have been typed in Facebook once but since the advent of Twitter, I've noticed status updates getting much messier. Now, we're more likely to see:
Rob That new AFX tune = tuuuuuuuune :-o
It's not about bad spelling, which has always been a pre-requisite of text-size updates due to the 140 character limit, but bad grammar.

I've become aware of this using because the same status update I send to Facebook also comes to this blog. It's not a professionalism thing; it's a case of my status updates making sense, whether or not they are prefixed by my name or not.

Whereas on Facebook, an update might read:
Guy is hungry.
the same update coming to this blog would read:
is hungry
Which just wouldn't make sense (to me, anyway) in the context of a blog. I suppose "am hungry" would make sense as this implies a truncated first person but then my status update on Facebook would read "Guy am hungry"...

So I've worked out that using an application like, I'm limited to using verbs in the simple past tense or with modal auxiliary verbs tacked on the front. I can get away with a status like:
got hooked on The Wire over the last four days.
because it still makes sense over on social networking sites where my name is shoved in front of it. Likewise, I could update with:
would watch more of The Wire tonight but might go to see Che: Part One instead.
and get away with it for exactly the same reasons. I say "get away with" but of course no-one's going to punish me or even frown on me for not sticking to these rules. The only explanation I can give is that I prefer to construct my digitial identity in this way. It might seem trivial but status updates are the most prevalent indicators of digital identity, especially as they appear both on social networking sites and on blogs.

With a few tweaks to the stylesheet of my blog I've arranged for my status updates to be capitalised (that is the first letter to be in uppercase) just to make those decapitated sentences look that little bit neater, rather than have my Facebook and Twitter statuses look messier as a trade-off. It took a few seconds to write the following bit of code, which takes care of this tidy-up job for me:
div:first-letter { text-transform: uppercase; }
The only "problem" I might have left is the kind of restriction this approach places on my status. What all the above means is my status updates are always about what I have already done or about what I might do under certain conditions and never about what I am actually doing at this very moment. Right now though, I intend to go home.

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