IMHO

My online life

Written By: Miranda

Ms. Blue had been describing to me her ideas for a course she intends to teach, incorporating the idea of managing one’s online persona. It got me thinking about my life online and the richness it has given me.

I bought my first computer in 1995 (I just found the original sales slip as I was going through some old papers in preparation for moving out of the house that’s been home for the last nine years and here it is ) and got online with a 28.8 dial-up modem. State of the art. My sister in Oregon introduced me to email, plain text of course. My ISP at the time was ValleyNet, then a part of the Montshire Museum. I was subscriber 349.

That computer opened a new world for me and you can read an essay I wrote about it here.

ValleyNet gave its subscribers web space for whatever they liked and I put up a personal website. I called it Zelda’s. I called it Zelda’s because I believed the Internet was a wild and lawless place. I wanted a disguise. I wanted to travel incognito through this bad neighborhood. Like any bad neighborhood though, if you carry yourself with confidence and are not foolish about where you go, you’ll be fine.

I used a pseudonym: Zelda Queen of the Night. Pretty silly, eh? But I’ve grown pretty fond of Zelda over the years. (The site is prime evidence of the way things hang around on the net too, because it is still on a server owned now by SoverNet, which bought out the ISP portion of ValleyNet and I haven’t had an account there is quite a while. Someday they’ll remember it’s there and take it down and I’ll have to upload it elsewhere and update all the links.)

Putting up that website taught me a lot, not only about HTML and site building but about the unexpected pleasures that come with publishing work online. I have an email link on it and people began to email me. Strangers emailed me to say they liked the story of our Travels With the Frog Army. I had put up a really hilarious (if I say so myself) report on a weekend with my mother and step-father over at our old family place south of Rutland, Vermont that I called The Bat Report and a older cousin, Noel Peattie, a poet whom I had never met, recognized the house and family though in my caution I had changed the name of the town and the family to something else entirely. Noel wrote to Zelda Queen of the Night and I replied. Then we spoke on the phone several times. I treasure that, because not long after that Noel died. That contact never would have happened without my online life.

I had put up a memorial page on my site. The memorial was for my best friend of many many years. We called her Muffy. She died in 2003. A couple of years after it went up I got an email from a childhood friend of Muffy’s who had lost contact with her and had only just recently learned of her death. In her grief the woman had gotten online and done a search for Muffy’s name and come up with my site. She got in touch with me. We were able to talk about Muf and how she had died. I think it brought her comfort. It brought comfort to me and it never would have happened if I was not publishing my thoughts online.

About 2001 I began working as a volunteer technical consultant for a large discussion forum. The forum has many hundreds of members from all over the world. Many of those members I have met face to face at gatherings. I have made many friends through the forum and have had several members of it come and stay with me as I have visited them in their homes.

About the time I began working at KUA I took a course in online publishing at Marlboro Graduate Center which introduced me to blogging. We were asked to keep a “metacognitive blog” and you can still read mine over here at Blogspot. If you do read it you’ll see I wasn’t happy with the instructor at all but the class did bring up a lot of interesting ideas.

I began a blog at WordPress.com called Edu-IT. I wanted to try to document my experiments and discoveries in the way of online tools I discovered and also to try to join the conversation that is going on about how education is changing (or not changing). I haven’t posted anything over there in almost a year but that experience also enriched my life. It can always enrich it further if I care to begin writing about the topic of education again, the site is there just waiting although I suppose I should delete it if I don’t intend to use it. A neglected site is almost worse than no site at all when it comes to an online presence.

I’ve never had a bad experience with any of the human contacts I’ve made over the years that I’ve been publishing and interacting online so it is difficult sometimes for me to take the scare stories seriously. I do think about what I publish because things have a way of hanging around. For instance if you Google my name “miranda clemson” (don’t forget the quotes to cut down the results) you’ll find my name in a selectboard report from 2004, posts I’ve made in the Apple discussion forums, comments I’ve made on blogs
If you participate online you leave a trail behind you and the trail can last a long, long time. In some cases, it is better to post under a pseudonym, for instance many IT people, if they post a question in a discussion forum for technical people will use a pseudonym because they don’t want it known that they’ve asked what could be perceived as a dumb question. It makes them look bad, or they might feel that it does anyhow. Perhaps it will make them look bad if a future employer¬† googles their name and comes up with it.

I got a Facebook account in 2005 or 2006, mainly because a group of KUA students had formed a group called “Students Against the Administration Looking at Our Pictures” and some in the administration at the time wanted to investigate. Why the students were mad about the administration looking at their pictures I can’t imagine (why put them online if you don’t want anyone looking at them?) and why members of the administration couldn’t join Facebook themselves I can’t imagine either but I did join, took a look around and didn’t go back for a long time. It held no interest for me. Then, in 2008 or 2009 my younger sister out in Oregon discovered it and so did a lot of my old friends. Now, I do use it quite a bit to keep in touch with people far away and as well have come in contact with a lot of old friends, some from my high school days, and as well relatives whom I don’t normally keep in touch with.
As I posted in thinking about Facebook, my brother used it to keep in touch with friends while he was in the hospital recently and it was wonderful for that.
I keep various lists of friends: close friends, friends, professional friends and classify people that way and am careful about what I share there. I have a note under “about me” that reads:

I enjoy using Facebook to connect with family and friends. However, as an employee of Kimball Union Academy I represent that institution at all times. Please respect this when posting to my wall or tagging photos with my name in this public venue.

People do seem to respect this, or perhaps I just have friends who don’t post obnoxious things on other people’s walls. Despite all the hoo-ha about Facebook privacy it does give you quite a bit of control over what is public and what isn’t. The big problem with it is that they keep changing the controls so one is constantly having to re-vamp the settings.

Facebook is now used for a lot more than connecting with friends of course, many people use it as a marketing tool via Facebook Pages. I did try this for a site I did for my ex-husband who is a fishing guide: barryclemson.com. The site was originally a static site, things didn’t change much on it. I wanted to make it a bit more lively so I used WordPress, the same WordPress we use here at KUAPress to make the site and connected it to a Facebook Page that I set up for him. One can click “Like” on the site and your like appears on your Facebook profile. Anything in the WordPress category: Fishing Reports is sent to Facebook as a Note as well as sent to a Twitter account. The site doesn’t really work though because Barry is not a very communicative guy. He doesn’t post updates to it and the updates at the beginning of the summer were emailed to me after I called and asked for them, then I posted them for him which is pretty silly. This winter we’ll go back to a more static format I think.

I recently decided to try to gather things together where I could keep track of them all and got a domain name and server space at mclemson.net and if you go there you’ll see there’s not much to it yet but I do think I want to organize things a bit more. As well I wanted space for my Capstone blog. I am finally getting a college degree (at age 55, and kids let me advise you to get a degree when you are young and have time to do it because getting a college degree when you are working full-time and have a child is no picnic believe me). Anyway I am now working on my capstone project and my advisor suggested that I gather all that material together in a blog.

That’s my online life. It’s given me a great deal of pleasure, taught me innumerable fabulous things¬† and all in all been a good experience.

I firmly believe that the people who have power in the years to come will be the people who know how to present information online, work with other people online, participate online. Those who don’t will be consumers – passive consumers of what other people tell them, what other people present to them.

Which will you be?

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