Monday, November 30, 2009

Digital Footprints, Legacies, Portfolios, Identities, and Dossiers

There has been some Tweeting recently about digital legacies, digital footprints and whether we are robbing kids of their legacies by not letting them download, save, or post work online. It got me thinking about the difference between legacies, footprints, and digital portfolios that we have been talking about for a long time, as compared with digital dossiers and digital identities as defined by Palfrey and Gasser in Born Digital.

In some ways, it’s a bit like the early days of multimedia. The terms mean different things to different people. Some of the artifacts that go into the creation of each are intentional, others unintentional, and others are out of our control.

We contribute to all of them, but so do others. If I do a vanity search for “Art Wolinsky”, I get a collection of things I have posted over the years and things others have posted about me. If I invest a few dollars do a search of public records, I get a lot of other information.

So how DO we define these different terms? I’m hardly an expert, but I like the Palfrey and Gasser terms. Our digital identities, which probably relate, rather than equate to digital footprints, are made up of those things we post to define who we are.

In my younger days, long before computers, that identity changed frequently as styles changed and I matured. Who I was yesterday was quickly forgotten, because it had little lasting documentation. Changing my hair, my clothes, and my mannerisms changed my identity.

Today, that is not anywhere as easy. Once I establish an online identity, it can be difficult to change, because who I was yesterday, is still alive and well online. Indeed, I may have intentional multiple identities, because I am one person in Facebook and another in SecondLife and so on.

Our digital dossier is out of our control. It made up of things that are stored digitally online, such as Social Security information, medical records, credit reports, etc. While they don’t outwardly contribute to my identity, they are none-the-less something we have to be aware of for privacy and security reasons.

The term digital legacy is used in many contexts, but it tends to be used more in education and relates more to portfolios, but I don’t think there is any clear line between footprints and legacy, because where we go and what we do contribute to our legacy and our identity.

I can’t help but wonder whether we are asking the wrong question. I don’t think we should be as concerned about whether we are robbing kids of their digital legacy if we don’t let them download digital media they create. I think we need to be more concerned about teaching kids about how to protect their digital identities so that the legacy they leave is one of which they are proud. Without that, what they post with or without our permission may create a legacy that will not serve them will in the future.


  1. Nice contribution. Semantics are important. To me, a legacy is a creative endeavor, not a chronolog or footprint. The digital version is simply a formating of information.

  2. A legacy is what you leave behind. By definition, therefore, your legacy is what those who remain behind make of it, not what you made it of. The legacy of the atomic bomb makers is independent of their intent: it is one thing to the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; it is another thing to those of us in the Hudson Valley who ostensibly benefit from the nuclear plant at Indian Point; and it is something else to the residents of Three MIle Island and Chernobyl, who at first felt like Hudson Valleyites and then became Nagasakiites. A legacy then is how what you left is seen through the lens of history: hard to predict and changeable.

  3. I diddo the comments of AJKleinmann, specifically, "A legacy is what you leave behind." And the Internet or the social networking world is a place where people are leaving their "digital legacies"--some good and some bad. As such, it is essential for educators to educate students and teenagers on the dangers of what they say, do, and add online.

    Michelle I-Roseau

  4. I just realized how to access Blogger using my account. So, to add to my comment above, I cannot undo my original "anonymous" post. This experience reinforces the necessity for us to think twice before we push the button or press "submit" on our computers. The Internet captures every mishap or exemplar we dare to post online. However, though posting comments to a blog leave clues of our perspective and position on a topic of interest. The World Wide Web has the ability to piece together our identity and/or personality for the greater good.

    Digital legacies, footprints, or portfolios provide the forum for the world to know us or for us to share ourselves with others, and for that reason, I embrace the World Wide Web and partially believe that we are robbing kids of their digital legacies when we do not allow them the opportunity to post video or comments online, and the like.

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