The Right Way to Internet

This is a classic from xkcd. I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently.

As a professional digital citizen, there are wrong ways to use the internet. Some examples:

  • Anything illegal
  • Oversharing personal life choices
  • Publically displaying things that, as a professional, you would not discuss in person
  • Bringing discredit on yourself, or your employer

As a proficient digital citizen, there are useful competencies when using the internet:

  • If you want to share a cat photo, don’t put a link like this:
  • Don’t change your font and style meaninglessly.
  • Don’t embed broken links with poor placement.

However, as a professional, proficient digital citizen, there is no right way to internet. ECMP 355 teaches useful skills but also pushes certain ways of using the internet. There’s social nuance here, there’s peer pressure, and there’s a lot of norming. Some areas that are norms, but are not essential to proficient, professional internet use:

  • Having more followers than followings on Twitter. (Ego based norm)
  • Actively sharing yourself vs lurking. (Extroverted norm)
  • Proliferation of apps and tech that you use. (Specialization norm)
  • Click-bait style publicity. (Audience norm)

I’m sure there are others. I’m also sure you may disagree with me. I welcome that debate – please help me refine this idea below.


5 thoughts on “The Right Way to Internet

  1. Interesting thoughts – appreciate the pushback.

    The norms that you identify could likely be seen as subsets of the teaching profession as a whole, past – present – future. In SK, the STF Code of Ethics is certainly a norming document. Curriculum norms. 21st century literacies (much of what informs the ECMP “norms”) also does the same.

    I would argue there are “right ways to internet” within any given contextual, professional framework.

    In looking at the ECMP norms that you identify …

    1) Twitter ratios – following more than follow you is commonly used by bots, social marketers, etc. which exploit Twitter’s 2000 follow rule. These bots follow/unfollow to get around it. Proficient tech-users (educators in this case) often look at ratios in deciding whether or not to follow someone.

    2) Sharing vs. lurking – First, sharing “oneself” is not the point. Sharing is. If I were hiring teachers, I would not even consider a teacher who did not share resources commonly, both online or offline. The profession needs those who share, not those who hoard. Lurking is fine … but only as on the path to sharing, and strategically beyond that. Check out Shareki’s presentation “Sharing: The Moral Imperative”.

    3) I’m not sure I get the critique here. ECMP is a survey course on tech. Thus, apps are demonstrated as possible tools for use in various situations. Actual use in the classroom will depend on context, need, rationale, etc.

    4) Re: the attention economy, Herbert Simon writes “…in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it” (Simon 1971, pp. 40–41).”

    If we believe in the democratic principles of the web, everyone has a voice. However, with social networking algorithms, corporate $, slow loss of net neutrality, etc., we are seeing that voice’s are lost in the noise. ECMP is very much about teaching students to communicate in such environments and to help our students teach their future students to do the same – to allow student voices to be heard.

    Does that help as a start?


    • Thank you for the careful thought Alec. You raise an excellent point on how almost every standard we have is norming in one way or another.

      I think one of the reasons norming stands out to me in this context is because I’m a deep believer in net neutrality and the internet’s potential as a levelling platform (a way to combat inequality). I’m aware of the politics, the influence hierarchies, the leverage, etc. that permeate most aspects of our world. That’s one of the reasons I accept the STF Code of Ethics – I recognize the power and influence that the STF has in the context of education in Saskatchewan. (Of note – I also agree with the Code of Ethics for its own sake. Those ideals matter to me as a person). My belief that freedom is inherent to the internet makes it hurt more to see power hierarchies creating norms online.

      Your individual responses to my listed norms are appreciated. I think if I had to summarize my issues with these norms, it would come down to this: I’m a bit stubborn. I don’t like changing aspects of myself to meet imposed standards unless I see strong, solid arguments supporting those standards. Back to the Code of Ethics: I understand the moral and ethical gravity of teaching and developing the youth of a country. For that reason, I accept an imposed standard. Further, I’ve thought about each item on the Code, and I except them individually. The four norms I listed, on the other hand, I did not have solid arguments to defend. As a result, adapting to them feels like an imposed persona, and I prefer to limit my acting to when I’m on a stage. Or maybe that’s the root of this – I don’t accept the internet as a stage. (I know, I know: All the world’s a stage).

      Your individual comments on the four norms help, and add some weight to those norms. I’m not fully satisfied, but that’s okay – you don’t need to convince me. These are questions that I plan to continue to struggle with. Thank you again.


  2. Thanks, Zach and Alec for sharing! Lots to think about here.

    I appreciated Zach’s critique of Twitter ratios because I have also struggled with this idea. I definitely use Twitter ratios when deciding who to follow, but I sometimes wonder if this is problematic. What if someone shares great stuff but I choose not to follow them because they are a new user and only have 50 followers? Does that mean my “Twitter ego” is getting in the way of a potentially meaningful connection?

    Alec’s description of how a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention also got me thinking. I sometimes struggle with figuring out how to efficiently divide my attention among all the great articles and blog posts that come up on my Twitter feed on a given day. Feeling overwhelmed by all the stuff I want to read/engage with but having limited time sometimes leads me to just close my Twitter app altogether and not engage with any of it. What are some strategies I can use to help with this? I’m thinking the “Save for Later” option on Feedly might be useful. Any other suggestions?


    • Thanks for your comments Raquel.

      On the follower/following ratio: Alec pointed out how bots use this to make decisions (who to direct promoted tweets at, who to remove from twitter as spammers, etc.) The robotic nature of this decision matrix is part of my problem. Obviously, no one advocates a strict adherence to the rule – there will always be exceptions. However, the existence of the rule removes some of the critical thinking and openness to individuality that I cherish on the internet. Let me give an example in sexuality:

      Most people (as in, more than 50%) that we meet are heterosexual. However, fairly recently (at some point in the last few decades for most of us – a bit earlier, depending who you hung out with. See: ) that became, socially, an unacceptable assumption. It’s a heteronormative assumption, which devalues any person who is not heterosexual. In the same way, yes the twitter follower/following ratio is mostly true, but that doesn’t mean we should accept it as a rule. It devalues people (many, but not all, of whom are bots) who follow more people than they are followed by.

      I don’t have a solution for getting overwhelmed by the number of options – I know the feeling. But here’s a TedTalk about it!


  3. Pingback: Online Collaboration and Helping Others (as Best I Can) | Zachary Sellers' Blog

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