In sync? Online and offline personhood at times of change

 

Wendy Moncur’s views on identity in the post-digital era

By: Jonathan Holtby, Community Manager at the Hub of All Things

In a post-digital area, where digital technology is ever-present but mundane, online and offline aspects of people’s lives and identities are becoming intertwined.

So says Dr. Wendy Moncur, the Interdisciplinary Chair in Digital Living at the University of Dundee. Dr. Moncur is helping to lead a discussion at the Wolfson-HAT Annual Symposium on the Digital Person that explores, in part, some of what happens to this identity at times of change in our lives.

Digital technologies can help and hinder during times of change. When one is becoming an adult, becoming a parent, experiencing a romantic breakup, or dealing with the end of life, their digital identities are a component of their experience.

Today, information about the UK citizens’ use of digital technologies is often expressed in statistics today – x% lack Internet access; y% get online to engage in online banking, update social media sites, or participate in online auctions. But there are many social implications to digital technology use, argues Dr. Moncur. Individuals may communicate online as a major way to stay in touch with friends and family, and as Internet access rises and government and public sector budgets shrink, online services become an increasingly attractive way for government and public sector service providers to communicate with citizens.

Dr. Moncur’s work investigates the digital personhood of UK citizens through interviews that have taken place at three life transitions: as they have been leaving secondary school, becoming a parent, and retiring from work. The implied identity that these interviews uncovered can be viewed quite differently by different stakeholders in the citizens’ digital persona.

The Wolfson-HAT Symposium on the Digital Person

As Dr. Moncur has engaged with stakeholders in government, industry, and the public sector, their perceptions of UK citizens as digital citizens emerged. Individuals were found to have placed a strong focus on communicating with friends and family, and maintaining relationships over time and distance. But organizations hoped to connect to citizens they (often) had little prior relationship with, to persuade them to use new software for a ‘business’ purpose.

Often, the willingness and ability of citizens to become involved online with the government and public sector was underestimated, and citizens’ vulnerability online was overestimed, sometimes along common stereotypes – for example that retirees uniformly find it hard to get online, or that they are naive to what they might find there.

How can we increase communication between these two groups? Can our government’s and institutions’ engagement take into account the diversity of the UK’s digital citizens? Dr. Moncur has shown in research that common goals exist; a majority are hopeful that Government departments will protect UK citizens, and increase public awareness of the risks inherent in online life. And while all have a reticence to share citizens’ data, including those in the Government, there is a mutual enthusiasm about the potential of shared data across coherent cross-department initiatives in ensuring future integration. Inter-agency cooperation around citizens’ engagement with digital technologies is desirable to many.

Stakeholders from Government, the public sector, and industry show more concern for the privacy implications of citizens’ behaviours, and how to reach out to citizens to encourage them to use (and be honest with) government services than many would imagine. Prof. Moncur’s project is one of the first to incorporate both citizen and stakeholder perspectives on risks and opportunities associated with the digital lifespan in an increasingly digitally mediated age, an area that presents fertile ground for further inquiry.

Learn more about Professor Wendy Moncur’s perspective on UK citizens’ engagement with digital technologies and services at the Wolfson-HAT Annual Symposium on the Digital Person, beginning on March 15, 2017 at 5:30pm. Tickets are free, and available online at hatcommunity.org/symposium-week-one.

Professor Wendy Moncur, FRSA, is the Interdisciplinary Chair in Digital Living at the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design/ School of  Nursing & Health Sciences at the University of Dundee. She is a co-Investigator, EPSRC TIPS: TAPESTRY, and a visiting scholar at University of Technology in Sydney, Australia. Follow her on twitter @wendymoncur.

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