Every community we join asks us to introduce ourselves, and when we do, establish our role, identity, and positionality within the space. It is a negotiation between our current context (as we understand it) and the room’s range of contexts. For example, as a designer, joining a community of designers, where people discuss designer-y things, we will likely use that as a median context and identity.

We are, of course, nothing more than binary bits in the digital space. Designers set the nature of our conversation by the fields they (or admins) assign to our profile for no fault of their own. Those create epistemic affordances and boundaries to the scope of our communication, sense of belonging, and range of curiosity in the space.

By filling in a digital profile, we create a role for ourselves, a pseudo self — a mediation away from the person we are. The oxymoron is that while it is indefinitely cheap to establish new roles and ways of being online, they are all increments of moving away from an authentic self. The experience of being the whole you is unknown, most of which to ourselves. It is most certainly not shared in predetermined contexts.

Digital theme parks, of the kind we have been seeing when translating conferences online, or the surge in online asynchronous communities using Discord and Slack, directly impact how we allow ourselves to show up in conversation and the creativity we put into it.

As an experiment, try to hold off with introducing yourself on the next Slack you join and reflect on the nature of conversations in the space. Are they more or less transactional? Is there more range for you to show up, or are you pigeonholed to one role?

November 15, 2020