With 25 years in technology behind him Mike Roch, a previous Director of IT Services at Reading University, has a great deal of insight into Digital Identity – both in terms of what it means to him, and the way it is approached by others.
With social networking, particularly Facebook, being very much the topic du jour, Mike observes that his own experience shows you can never be too careful about how you present yourself online, because that information will be around for a long time! “So much of the discussion focuses on the here and now,” he says, “but, sorry to be the old fart, to me it’s not that new.
“It’s a new medium, but we were doing this sort of thing 25 years ago – and the evidence still exists that we were doing it 25 years ago. The persistence of this activity is something we are only coming to recognise now – there are Web sites out there whose mission it is to record all of the Internet for posterity, and actually, it’s much more accessible than just some juddering archive!”
With this in mind, he says, people should perhaps take lessons from real life when considering how to form their digital one. “A lot of people don’t think about what the audience for their postings is going to be. Yet our actual experience of life is not speak as you would be spoken to, but to speak as the audience expects or requires you to. Very few people have the luxury in life of being themselves, and having the world like it or lump it.”
Mike adds that people’s belief in the anonymity of the Internet is part of their innocence about how it really works, and can make them throw caution to the wind by telling the world and his dog about their life and exploits from the comfort of a laptop. “I do think there’s a lot of, not naivety – because that’s a loaded term – but trust and innocence about the way people use social networking, young people in particular, “he says.
“Their openness in social networking is not reflected in openness in their real lives. For example, it’s not usual when walking down the street to see what someone’s name is – even their name is private, never mind what’s going on in their relationships, or their political views.”
In fact, says Mike, the analogy of a street applies rather well to the Internet. “There are all sorts out there,” he comments, “and if you’re going to use a street safely and securely, then you tend not to make a lot of eye contact, you tend to avoid dark corners, and cross over when there are no street lights. The Internet’s got dark corners as well – and there is a level of risk, especially when there is a link between the virtual and the real.”
Setting boundaries and making yourself fully aware of these risks, concludes Mike, are key to staying in control of your Digital Identity, enabling it to work for you and hopefully not against you.