Yesterday I had the great fortune to meet one of my idols and long-time favorite bloggers, Penelope Trunk. I attended a brainstorming session with her and Jason Warner, and due to a gaffe with printing the conference schedules, only a handful of other people knew it was happening and actually showed up. So, instead of putting Penelope behind the podium, we all pulled up chairs and gathered around in a circle for a real conversation with her. I was thrilled to have this opportunity.
During the conversation, a lot of questions and comments came up about using social media and all that it entails. Being basically the only person from Generation-Y in the room, I found that people were strangely fascinated by my perspectives and opinions. Penelope later likened their reactions to me as being similar to that of people viewing an exhibit in a museum. It’s like they couldn’t really believe that these so-called digital natives actually existed in the real world, and that here they were, in a room with one, who was living and breathing and talking (a lot).
There was only so much time in the session, and despite the many chances I did have to speak, I didn’t feel that I was able to properly encapsulate my experience as a digital native, which is what prompts me to write about it now.
I have a presence on a lot of places online, including but not limited to: Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Dopplr, Yelp, Vimeo, LinkedIn, Flickr, and I blog on here using WordPress. Sure, I’m signed up for lots of other sites, but these are the only ones where I have accounts that I actively maintain.
Some people might think this is overkill, but it isn’t. And I’ll explain why.
I am extraordinarily multi-faceted. So why shouldn’t I have a multi-faceted online identity? Anything less would not be an accurate portrayal of me as a person. And I want people to get to know me as a person; that’s the essentially the entire reason I create so much content. For it to be consumed. Hopefully, by you.
That’s the primary point of publishing parts of you life online. By letting you get to know me, there is a better chance that you’ll discover something we have in common and reach out, to connect and possibly collaborate. This, to me, is the whole purpose of being a digital native: allowing technology to change where our relationships begin and change how our relationships are maintained.
In any case, you’ll see that in that initial list of sites, there isn’t any overlap. Note that Facebook is on there, but not FriendFeed. Twitter, but not Plurk. Tumblr, not Posterous. Dopplr, not TripIt. WordPress, not Blogger. Yelp, not Zagat. And finally, Flickr, not Photobucket (or SmugMug or Snapfish or whatever else exists in the online photo sharing space).
This exercise wasn’t meant to bore you. It was to demonstrate that while I have accounts at all of the aforementioned sites, I only use the ones in that initial list. Why? Because I don’t use each of these sites the same way. Not at all. And if I did, there would be no valid reason to have presences on all of them. If they all did indeed accomplish the same end result, I would only have a single, solidified, stream-lined presence on one.
This is exactly why I don’t have updates from Twitter fed into my Tumblr. Likewise, I don’t use Tumblr to blog, because I purposely choose to only write long-form posts on my blog using WordPress. Instead, I use Tumblr as my online thoughtstream, a living repository by which to collect meaningful links, quotes, and pictures that I come across or clips of conversation that I have. And while I certainly browse and favorite videos on YouTube, Vimeo is where I prefer to put my own videos.
The only real overlap in the initial list of sites is that I post photos to both Flickr and Facebook. But not the same photos. Since I’m a photographer, my professional photos go up into my portfolio on Flickr, where they can be publicly displayed, while my personal pictures stay on Facebook, where they can be privately accessed only by friends.
Which brings us to Facebook. And, well, Facebook stands alone. I do everything on Facebook and feed everything into Facebook. Because the truth is that even amongst my fellow compatriots of Generation-Y, a true digital native is still rare breed, found far and few in between. In order to expose the majority of my friends to fruits of the time and energy I put into the incredible amounts of content that I create and consume, I have no choice except to put it where they are. And where are they? They’re all on Facebook, of course, because Facebook is the gateway drug of social media.
Regardless, the point is that being multi-faceted is not the same as merely maintaining multiple presences. Don’t confuse the act of simply having an account on a multitude of sites, services, and social networks with actually making a concerted effort to appreciate what social media has to offer you.
The real (and only) strategy behind being (or becoming) a digital native is to actively use sites that contribute to your overall online identity; ones that complement your plethora of presences, not duplicate or regurgitate them.