Sunday, November 1, 2015

Who We Are in a Digital World

I am growing as a teacher and presenter, relying on my personal stories to deliver messages of history, heritage, hope, compassion, unity, and community.  There is no better way to connect with other human beings than to share stories. We build relationships this way. We build bridges of understanding by demonstrating common themes. I have learned that my stories impact the adults to whom I have always directed information about caring for archives, but similar stories make the same impact on children. How do we get students interested in a subject? Tell them stories about it. More than that, show them that you respect their own stories that they have already identified as important to their lives.
The Bow, NH Rotarians donated a
book to their local elementary school
to honor my visit.
This week, I had the pleasure of addressing Rotarians. A colleague asked me to deliver a short presentation about family history. She told me that her Rotary group has responded favorably to her own stories about her own family history. I decided to tie together some stories of my own for them.

My grandparents
My daughter's pancakes and mom's pizza
My students and encouraging thinking about the future 

In the classroom this week, I spoke about a totally different (but strangely related) subject. I was teaching about being an effective information consumer and distributor.  We discussed branding and the stories that companies are crafting about themselves to sculpt their reputations. I then asked students to turn inward and to examine what kind of personal brand they are creating online.

Like many of us, students are creating an online presence without thought to the digital trail they are leaving and the personal characterization they are sculpting for themselves. Today, our information often is saved before we even have a chance to consider its initial purpose, organization and long-term value.

Digital Life 101 asks young adults to consider their digital lives, the stories they are telling, and the information they are spreading. After viewing the short movie in the classroom, I split students into groups to discuss what they put online and what audiences they are reaching. Do they want all of the stories they share to reach all of these audiences? What personal brand are they projecting? How can they more carefully craft their personal story by using restraint and through the careful management of their social media and other online interactions?

It took me 20 years to craft my stories for diverse audiences. I had time. Our teens might not. By having them identify what is important to them now and by helping them focus in on personal branding, my purpose is twofold:
  • I hope to help young people gain a greater awareness of how their life fits in with their larger communities, to feel part of something bigger than themselves, and to gain an appreciation for their place in history.
  • But, I also hope to help them realize that the "stories" they tell now, those little bits of information they leave all over the Internet, are precious, potentially dangerous, and open to larger audiences they may not have considered. They may not be talking to Rotarians yet, but their words have potential and can make an impact on our culture.
Stories are powerful. If we don't craft them for ourselves, others will tell the story of who we are. Thoughtfully and deliberately consider your role in this world and the remnants you leave behind. Help the teens in your life do the same.