Disappear

“Be professional from now,” she said. “Because they will Google you.” Immediately, smartphones lit up across the lecture theatre. Teacher candidates, terrified that their careers would be over before they’d launched, wrecked by an algorithm. “Every trace will be found,” she said, and I remembered those deleted tweets – or did I only think I’d deleted them? Best to check before I meet the Principal.

TED

Today I’ve been wrestling with the online giants, struggling to contain my profile. It’s melancholy work, viewing yourself through hostile eyes, especially when the hostility is so widely sanctioned. This year, privacy’s the responsibility of the individual, not the community. I mean if someone hacks into your Facebook account it’s your fault. So you won’t find me there, now, even if you’re a Friend of a Friend. And my previous blog is invisible as of lunchtime, because I couldn’t face assessing the content of each individual post. “2588 public entries have now been changed to be private,” the website declared. Better safe than sorry.

It was a great blog, describing seven year-long projects in which I’d repeat the same action every day. It was historic, too, spanning a period in which blogging burgeoned and plateaued, troubled by the “social media” it had partly inspired, and which now makes me shut it down. I’d be radically different if I hadn’t started the blog. It’s connected me to an international community of artists as well as a local scene around the Emerging Writers’ Festival, at which I’ve spoken about online writing. It also informed my work at Museum Victoria [Project Coordinator, Online Learning] and the Uniting Church [Schools Liaison Worker and writer of the “Uniting Schools” blog]. It’ll shape my practice as a teacher, too, which makes it doubly ironic that I’ve shut it down.

These are odd times. Half a decade ago, it looked as if the internet might transition our culture to one in which we’d all been exposed, and recovered from it. Now condemnation’s back, veiling itself as prudence. And, while I understand our lecturer’s advice, I wish we didn’t have to take it. By scrambling to hide our profiles I feel we enable a culture of blame, in which those “found out” elicit judgement instead of sympathy, condemned not for bad behaviour but for checking the wrong box.

Our new scapegoat: those who can’t wrestle Facebook to the ground.

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7 thoughts on “Disappear

  1. Donna

    I feel very upset and angry that you have been told to ‘hide’ the exact reason that you will make an awesome teacher – the fact that you are a real, live, interesting, creative and amazing person!!

    It’s organisational ‘risk-management’ gone mad. It takes away the responsibility of the hirer to undertake any thoughtful contemplation on what kind of person might bring life, vibrancy, inspiration or independent thought to an organisation.

    It kills imagination, courage and creativity, replacing it with limp dullness and blandness.

    What a waste!

    Reply
    1. philipthiel Post author

      Thanks for this, Donna. I agree that there’s a trend toward flatness in our online identities, and that it’s bad for diversity – recruiting or otherwise. I should stress that material from my artistic project still exists; it’s just not available in its entirety for people [students, parents, colleagues] to dissect. My status as an early blogger and online artist is still a big part of my identity, and I’ll include it in future applications for teaching roles.

      Also, there’s an interesting difference between private and public, here: the advice from the lecturer was about things we’d never want to share with strangers, whereas my blog was written with strangers in mind. Since starting the blog I’ve been a public person, used to managing such a profile. It’s not the same thing as people whose party photographs suddenly appear via Google, or in their professional inbox…

      Reply
  2. Rosie

    An excellent piece Phil, really summarising the situation that a lot of us face when working with children/young people! Or do what my friend did, and just use a different surname when you teach…extreme, but then you keep both parts of your ‘self’.

    Reply
    1. philipthiel Post author

      Hmm, I’m actually interested in presenting my whole self to professional settings. I’m not at all sure that a fragmentation of the adult is beneficial to leaners or teachers. Still, there’s a lot of fear language around, so I totally understand new teachers wanting to self-subdivide.

      Reply
  3. timmyk

    I’m so saddened to hear your amazing experiments have disappeared from the universe. It always made me so happy stumbling upon them. x

    Reply
  4. Pingback: Granting my salary | Teacher in the Rye

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