Adam Bird

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Monday, 3 October 2011

Digital Evangelism

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As in life, users of the Internet can be loosely grouped into demographics, or categories dependent upon age, or behaviour. We use them at work in planning for a website, add a little bit of fictional background information, give them a name and call them ‘persona's’ which are designed to try and work out ways in which the project we are building can be used to serve them purposely. The other night, a chance conversation led me into taking my own persona and dissecting it into pieces, not for research but to stand up for who I am and what I work and believe in.

A friend of mine greeted me on Friday night by saying “how are you doing, how is your second life?” which I wasn’t quite sure how to take. Originally, I took it as it was intended, as a bit of banter, taking the piss - we do it all the time, nobody is, or should be immune. But being a sensitive creature and one prone to over analysis, I pondered the question over the space of a few days and thought, actually, this might be a good topic for discussion. In the banner above, I have labelled myself as a digital evangelist and although I might be spreading the gospel at work, the pages of this blog haven’t really been used as a pulpit in which to speak and share my views about living today in a digital world.

Firstly, I sought to find an explanation, get some further details, or some elaboration upon what it was that appears to be funny about what it is that I do - but when asked what they were referring to, neither friend were actually able to offer much in the way of an explanation, which is understandable. It’s the whole thing about taking the piss, it means nothing other than highlight how shallow and well thought out the original comments were in the first place.

I feel that perhaps I should begin with a distinction, highlight the difference between what it is that I do and what it is that is perhaps perceived. Second Life, first of all, is the name of an application in which users can create an avatar and create a fantasy life and live within an online world that is fictitious and evolves separately and at a pace which is defined by the people within it. Whereas I, use social networking platforms to share real information, real content about myself with friends and family, as well as curate digital content, ideas and innovations with people I work with and others within my field of expertise.

The Internet is no longer a place inhabited by long haired, unwashed IT geeks hiding within the dark and just the glow of their laptops for company. Nor is the Internet available to those sitting purely at a computer, not with mobile, games consoles and handheld’s easily available - and all connected to the digital space. The Internet surrounds us and impacts our everyday lives whether we like it or not, particularly now that social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have massive amounts of users sharing and contributing digital content for friends, family and colleagues to watch, read, listen or interact with.

My website was born out of necessity and has since evolved for what I used it for now. I build websites for a living, it’s the perfect place to practise things on, a skunk works environment where I can tinker with code and create. Demonstrated as I have, with a scrolling bookcase with books I’ve read or a personalised map with places I’ve visited - or showcase some of the other sites that I have worked on. Nothing revolutionary but it helps me out professionally.

It was originally intended as a place to keep my Dad in contact and up to date with the family whilst he was out in Iran, long before Facebook was fully established. Even now, as he flew out to Libya last week on his latest assignment, mobile communication and telephone systems weren’t working in Tripoli, but the Internet was and Dad was able to contact us via Facebook to let us know he had arrived safely.

Nowadays, I use this site for my blog, an online place where I can record things that have happened, or chart the journey through a pregnancy, which I will have done now for both of my children. I can recall thoughts and worries about the wedding last year and the excitement about researching honeymoon destinations or more recently record the steps I’ve taken into writing something bigger in the form of a novel which is entirely new, exciting and terrifying in equal measure. I don’t write for approval, for any particular audience other than for myself. I find that I know myself better as a result and am able to compartmentalise better thoughts and reasons that certain things happen and where it is that I am going.

In fact, if it wasn’t for writing this blog, I would never have entertained the thought of writing a novel, proof if you like that one small step in one direction takes you on a massive detour into weird and wonderful places you never expected.

It’s this example, and ones like these that continue to drive me into doing what I do. The Internet empowers people, people use it as a research tool, an information gateway and an entertainment source.

Take the example of the little old lady who brought a computer and hooked herself up to the Internet because everyone said she should. She had never been abroad before, was too scared or had no reason to. Yet she started researching her family tree and opened up a can of worms, revealing part of her ancestry that was unknown and in which led her to being invited to the US as a guest of honour in a small town which was established by her forefathers. She is not alone in her case, there are plenty of couples out there who have to thank a dating site for bringing them together or Skype for allowing two people to continue a relationship despite the width of oceans and continents between them. People who have strange phobias that they thought were unique to them until they use a search engine and find a whole manner of people who have been afflicted with the same condition.

I don’t expect everyone to share my enthusiasm for this particular media, not do I expect everyone to love watching television, reading newspapers or listening to music. I also realise that not everyone wants to use or embrace these things as much as I do. For example, with Facebook. I very much share the vision Mark Zuckerberg has, where people collect and record everything of any importance with their Facebook profiles. With the pending release of the new timeline feature you’ll be able to map back to not just when you began to use Facebook, but right from the beginning of your birth - which I find hugely fascinating. Your account is then your life story, wrapped up in a Facebook branded frame, which is of absolute no interest to anybody other then yourself and your friends, but can live on long after you’ve gone. For no other point other than prosperity and philanthropy. We are all here for just a blink in an eye within the grand scheme of things and if I can leave behind a tiny digital footprint for someone to divulge a meaning upon later on in time then why the hell not? I’ve never once said that my life is interesting, which it isn’t, it is what it is and if I want to share certain things I only do it because I can. It takes a second to record something that has just happened, but forever trying to remember it.

Which then leaves me returning back to my original question, what would my online persona say about me?

Well my name is Adam Bird, I’m a power-user, meaning that I spend more than 50 hours a week connected to the Internet. I work within the industry and understand how the Internet works and is put together. I help build branded pages for clients that have been thought about and have a creative idea behind them. I write a weekly blog for my own personal use sharing information and stories with friends and family members who live locally, nationally and globally. I believe that the Internet as a medium empowers people and that used correctly can enhance peoples lives. By creating the right tools and with the right technology we can innovate creativity and unlock peoples potential, whilst leaving an ever-lasting digital footprint for the future, just like the books and information we had of the past.

A second life? Would be nice wouldn't it - I just hope that it is as fulfilling as this one.

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