1: Virtual You
First impressions have gone virtual. The handshake and introduction have been replaced with the Google search and blog post. Although humanities scholars are accustomed to knowing one another through their written work, often before meeting in person, we now face a new world of virtual first impressions. Increasingly, our online identities are the ones many come to know us by; web pages and online profiles are what we use to form impressions–perhaps even before reading another person’s written work.
And yet, scholars—technology-wary humanities scholars in particular—often neglect their online identities, even allowing (or relying on) others to shape their web presence. In other representations of ourselves and our ideas–papers, articles, books–we choose our words with the greatest care. And yet, when it comes to our online identities, we often live by different rules.
Googling oneself is something we’ve all done. And while “egosurfing” has the potential to turn our computer screens into narcissistic reflecting pools, doing a web search for oneself can also be an effective way to assess the state of one’s online identity. Is the first hit the first impression you want to make? Is your scholarship featured prominently or is it buried on page three?
Being active in forming an online identity is important for any scholar working in our digital age. Departmental websites in the humanities are inconsistent in their quality, at times lacking basic information and often are not run by scholars. Further, most scholars will switch institutions at least once in the course of their careers, if not multiple times. Establishing a separate website (one that perhaps links to your institution’s website, books or articles you’ve written, or other websites of interest) will create a permanent space for your work and situate your online identity within a larger scholarly network. Even if you are not planning to create a website, reserving your name as a website domain may be a good idea.
Although some graduate students have web pages or basic contact information through a departmental website, more often than not they toil in anonymity. That is, unless they’ve chosen to be pro-active. Anonymity is a choice, and a risky one at that. Although established scholars might be able to get away with having only an email address on their faculty page, can young scholars really afford to do the same?
The first step to improving your online identity is making sure that people can find you. There are a number of ways to improve one’s “searchability.” One basic step is to create a Google Profile, which is free, simple to set up, and will appear whenever someone searches your name using Google. Academia.edu offers another simple way to establish a web presence. The site is designed as a professional social networking site for scholars (think Facebook for academics, without poking), allowing them to create personal pages, post links and content (such as a CV or a syllabus), and to connect with others in the academy. The “follow” feature allows you to see what others are working on and publishing, and users have the ability to control precisely which information they share.
Creating a blog or website will require a higher level of ambition and a greater investment of time, but it also gives the greatest degree of control and flexibility in how you present yourself. For more information on establishing your own site, see this post.