Gowalla and Identities

Seems fitting that the inaugural post on the new site is about identities, digital and physical and social, no?

As background, I'm settling happily into a new gig at the Roy Rosenzeig Center for History and New Media, moved up to DC area for it, looking to start a new life by myself in a new place with a new future.

So yeah, lots of new thoughts about putting together a new identity for myself. Julie Meloni and Rachel Donohue introduced me to Gowalla and the idea of using it to put together a record of my life as expressed by my interactions with places. And, they introduced me to the gamification aspects, which are neat because that gets to gamifying my life, a bit.

Thanks to howet, I also had a very happy chance to speak to some great teachers at Marymount University at their teaching with technology day. The punch-line of my talk was that trying any new technology should involve a reflection on why the principles that led you to try the technology in the first place. That is, for example, if you value informal interactions in your teaching, why did you choose and how do you use a new technology to foster informal interactions? What do those choices tell you about what you really mean by that principle?

In the spirit of eating my own dog food, here I am trying a new technology, Gowalla, and reflecting on what it tells me about why I wanted to try it. Not too long after that, this nicely reflective article about Gowalla appeared. My takeaway is that Gowalla isn't place-based. It's life-narrative based.

What humanist could resist? More, what humanities hacker could resist?

So maybe Gowalla is aiming to capture the "big moments" of life, the punctuations. But, in the idea of a life-narrative with an eye to places, and in my experience with how my friends (and I!) use Gowalla, there's also the element of quotidian moments. I've checked in on Washington & Old Dominion Path many many times. It's on the bicycling leg of my commute to work. That's a quotidian prose moment, not a punctuation, but certainly as much a part of my life narrative, maybe more, as a special event, or as an out-of-my way jaunt.

Either and both ways, it helps me reflect on the quotidian and random and unusual events in my life. And that happens because through Gowalla -- in part -- I'm constructing an online identity that reflects my physical-space identity, and vice versa. When I checkin in Gowalla, I'm adding a bit to my digital identity -- searchable, sortable, processable, and minable. And that helps me think about how I'm putting together my new life. Where do I hang out, what's a priority to me, what does that say about me, what habits am I forming and why?

All good humanities questions that I'm hacking with the help of new media and new technologies.

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"Any medium powerful enough to extend man's reach is powerful enough to topple his world. To get the medium's magic to work for one's aims rather than against them is to attain literacy."
-- Alan Kay, "Computer Software", Scientific American, September 1984

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