You are what you eat… not anymore… you are what you post!

Ok- so maybe the analogy doesn’t quite work but you get what I am saying right? You are what you post; is who I am online a snapshot, a mirror, or a portrait of who I am in real life? I think before I can think about how I approach digital citizenship in my classroom and with my own children I have to wrap my head around this idea of why we “live” online at all. If you were to ask me at the beginning of my undergrad degree… which was only nine years ago… if I felt there was a place for technology in the classroom I would have said 100% yes. I like to think I have a pretty good understanding of the value of technology, how it can benefit student learning, the amazing opportunities it affords students to learn in ways that go far beyond the educational experiences of the past. I was fully committed to using tech to enhance lessons and engage students. I thought Twitter was a great space to connect and follow educational trends. I thought a “professional” Instagram was a great way to connect to students and to share what was happening in your classroom with teachers around the world. I was ready to network and to gamify. I was ready to be a tech forward teacher… cutting edge.

Then something switched… I don’t know if it was COVID-19. I don’t know if it was my own children getting older. I don’t know if it was the cancel culture movement or Jon Ronson or Marie Kondo or Mark Ronson for that matter… but suddenly I was on the side of the fence that said, “be in the moment”. The side that saw this “digital life” as performative and not positive. The side that saw twitter destroy peoples lives and trolls attack any little flaw or mistake someone posted online. The side that saw the impact it has on kids in and out of the classroom. That saw the rampant rise in depression and self-diagnosis and trauma and anti-social behaviors and the attention deficits and the lack of play in the way we used to know it. So now I struggle because there is still a very large part of me that thinks technology is amazing and can do amazing things. I can find scholarly articles and journals without leaving my house. I can scour back catalogues and library shelves in seconds with out ever having to look up a book in the card catalogue or put on pants. I can connect to friends and educators around the world. I can show students amazing videos and take them amazing places. Our computers can help students with learning difficulties, it has been shown time and time again that assistive technology can reinvent our understanding of ability and disability. So then I come back to what does this mean for digital citizenship?

So before I get into the nitty-gritty of this part of the post, I think I first need to define what I think of as digital citizenship. So I went back to the source. I came across Mike Ribble during my undergrad when I first started to think about the ideas of digital citizenship. He is the founder of He describes digital citizenship as “the continuously developing norms of appropriate, responsible, and empowered technology use”.  I think he still has a pretty good concept of what digital citizenship means and how we should view it as educators. If you want to hear more about these ideas Amanda Brace has a great podcast round up and conversation with Mike on her podcast. I like to think of digital citizenship as “how we participate in the online world”. I really tend to focus on the citizenship part of digital citizenship… if we break down what it means to be a citizen then we can start to break down how teach kids to exist online.

the continuously developing norms of appropriate, responsible, and empowered technology use”.

Mike Ribble

With that said let’s see how my metaphor holds up in my understanding of the digital world…

Digital Me: The Snapshot

I think of the snapshot as an authentic view of me both in the real world and the digital world. A snapshot is different than a portrait. Maybe this is where my artist brain gets in the way but I think of a snapshot as candid, a moment in time. So if my digital self is truly a snapshot of me online then it should reflect very closely me in real life. My online presence (citizenship) should look and feel very much like my real life citizenship. It should be a snapshot of who I am and what I value. It should be authentic and sincere and much like a polaroid photo not always flattering. However, I would argue that not a lot of people would see their digital presence as a snapshot.

Photo by rikka ameboshi on

Digital Me: The Mirror

The mirror metaphor of my digital citizenship becomes less about representing who I am to others (the snapshot) and becomes more about how my online presence reflects things I see in myself. This version of my digital citizenship is less about who I am creating as a digital citizen (the portrait) and more about what my already existing digital identity shows about myself. If I look at my online identity as a mirror what is it reflecting about me? Just like a mirror in real life I can choose to see the parts that are flattering and focus on those. Am I good digital citizen? Sure, look at all the great things my digital identity shows about me… Are there things that I’m not great at? Sure. And, just like in a mirror I can focus on those or ignore them. However, I think that the reality for many people is that your digital identity is neither a snapshot nor a mirror but rather a portrait.

Photo by ankiyay on

Digital me: The Portrait

So the last way I think about my digital identity and arguably the digital identity of so many people is as the portrait. What’s the difference? This comes down again to my view of art and photography. If the snapshot is candid and the mirror is reflective then the portrait is curated, orchestrated and meticulously crafted. The portrait is the performative, perfect digital citizen. If I am being honest this is what I struggle with most lately when it comes to some technology. Instagram is filtered and every picture needs to be perfect and posed. TikTok is rehearsed and practiced, perfected before its published. Twitter is “The Colosseum” where you are the gladiator there for others entertainment about to be attacked and in the end the crowd of raging masses is waiting to sentence you- a hero to fight another day or death based only a fickle thumbs up or thumbs down. So the portrait we curate online is really to satiate the masses, to keep up with the Joneses (or worse the Kardashians), to virtue signal, to schmooze, etc. But then maybe that’s just where I am at right now. I know there are a lot of good things that come out of these spaces but I feel like the scales have tipped towards the negative lately.

Photo by James Frid on

The reality: It’s probably all three

So what does all this have to do with how we deal with Digital Citizenship in the classroom? Well I think it is critical that you understand your view of the world before you start teaching others how to fit into it. So, if I believe that our online existence is a blend between a snapshot, a mirror and a portrait then I can start to show students how to understand and use some of these concepts. To go back to we need to think about how students exist in the digital space and I think embrace their S3 framework (safety, savvy and social). This focus on safety and savvy is important. Just like we used to learn about stranger danger and looking both ways before we cross the street we need to teach kids how to be safe and savvy in the digital world. That can look like protecting our kids from danger or it can look like teaching them to savvy and know the difference between someone’s snapshot and someone’s portrait. Then we also need to teach them how to be social because how and why we formed societies in the past has been reinvented and now we are forming new online global societies that are rich with potential but also need to sort out their norms. So we need to start to teach thinking like digital natives and understand that kids are born into a world with technology and teach them how to participate as a digital citizen so we recognize that just like Rome online society wasn’t built in a day and just like Rome if we leave the decisions to the raging masses we are going to end up with a collapsed society where we look back on the ruins and wonder how we ever thought it was ok to behave that way.

Rome’s in Ruins

So let’s take lessons from Rome and figure out how to make online a better place by teaching kids how to be better citizens. If we take away the mob mentality and we teach them how to protect themselves. If we get out from behind our keyboards and fight back against the trolling and the catfishing and the things that we know are the worst parts of the internet we can teach the next generation how to be upstanding digital citizens and slowly make sure that the internet and technology help them to reach their full potential, to change the world for the better and to create a safe space where we can learn together, create together and change the world for the better. I think it is so important to teach students and our own children how to be “good” digital citizens because if we don’t teach them then they’ll learn for themselves from role models we can’t control. I think if we think about how we teach students to be good citizens generally then its only seems fitting that we teach them to live the same way online. So in short I think I can make a return to technology if I worry less about my portrait and more about making sure that I am living as a digital citizen who can serve as a model and example of how to make a positive impact and how to exist in the digital world responsibly. If I can demonstrate to my students that I am someone who isn’t worried about my digital snapshot because it is honest and virtuous. As long as I am kind and true to myself then I can be proud of my snapshot. Besides we all get over the worst picture of ourselves eventually, right?!?

The worst picture of me c. 1992

4 thoughts on “You are what you eat… not anymore… you are what you post!

  1. Hi Will, the section titled “The reality” It’s probably all three” connected with me. It speaks to the what is at the heart of teaching. Teaching is mostly about the relationship; student to teacher, student to student, student to curriculum and student to pedagogy. In addition, we are all now digital citizens, whether we like it or not. The purpose of education is to help students navigate life and contribute to society once they become older. Teaching students how to navigate their digital life is now part of the job.


  2. Hi Will,

    I was interested in your topic because it reflects Nigeria’s contemporary situation. For me, the digital world is comparable to the homes that people already inhabit, but it needs to be defined, and educating children while they are still young is crucial. In Nigeria, schools are gradually introducing integrating speech recognition with AI and machine learning to advance education and improve teaching and learning.
    The online community would be made up of more responsible individuals who understand how to make the most use of the available resources if digital citizenship could be strengthened and taught in the classroom.


  3. Dear Will,

    Your blog post is great and I really enjoyed reading it. You mentioned about every issue related to digital citizenship and included your own perspectives as well. I believe that our online identity must be close to our real character. It is an important issue these days because some apps such as Instagram and TikTok needs a perfect picture to be published so every member has a perfect identity without considering our lacks.
    You posed a question: “If I look at my online identity as a mirror what is it reflecting about me?”
    This is a great question which encourages our mind to think about ourselves and see what our online identity is actually.



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