It's only me

Several people have asked why I use the name Timbuckteeth on Twitter, Flickr, Plurk and Slideshare. Others wonder about my use of the blue astronaut picture as my buddy pic. I haven't really answered in full until now, so here it is - my response about my own digital identity. In the light of this, and the excellent Wordle map which Marga Perez created from her analysis of all the tweets at this year's Online Educa Berlin conference, here is my considered response. I hope it resonates with you.

Timbuckteeth is a play on Timbuktu - a city in the African nation of Mali. In ancient times Timbuktu was both an intellectual and spiritual centre and a meeting place for many nomadic tribes and was located at the intersection of two great trade routes. It was quite simply the place to be. For me, writing blogs and tweets, academic papers, poems or fiction, or indeed anything that other people are likely to read (and I have done them all), requires that you are either intellectual or thougthful in your approach, or spiritually aware (and hopefully both). I strive in some way to bring both of these attributes to my writing, whether it is an 8,000 word book chapter, or a 140 character tweet. And like Timbuktu, I want my blogs, tweets and other writings to be places people want to come and visit. Actually, most of this paragraph could be seen as pretentious claptrap - If I'm really honest, I simply want my blogs and tweets to have some 'bite'

That I hope explains the name, but how do I explain the blue astronaut? Blue has always been my favourite colour, and when the buddy pic comes up, it is easily recognisable because it stands out. But that is mere trivia. The image itself is a little more esoteric, yet still holds significance for me - it's all about dates. Science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke is involved (the astronaut image is lifted directly from the Kubrick film '2001: A Space Odyssey' - an adaptation from one of Clarke's novels - it's the actor Keir Dullea). So is the concept of satellites. (See the connection yet?) In 1945 Clarke proposed the idea of geosynchronous satellites. 

His vision was not long in realisation because just over a decade later on 4th October, 1957 the first artificial satellite - Sputnik - was successfully launched, ushering in the global communication revolution. The day, the month and the year of Sputnik are all significant to me. You see, I was born in 1957 (I'm the same age as Sputnik, but we didn't go to school together), and I was married on 4th October (1986). When Arthur C. Clarke died on 19th of March this year, it was a sad day for me, but it was also the day Timbuckteeth was born, and from that moment on my tweeting and flickring and plurking have been done under this identity. Note: On Facebook it's down as 1 January (because he hates birthday cards and wants to put people off the scent).

A lot was discussed around the idea of digital identity at Online Educa Berlin this past week. The important ideas that came from these discussions for me was that digital identity - they way you represent yourself in digital environments, is an extension of some essence of your persona. You digital identity is your vicarious presence in that place where you are unable to be physically embodied, but where your emotional bandwidth can still be fully exploited. Digital identity has elements of your personal life and memories invested in it, and is the way other people online view you, so it should bear some personal significance for you. 

To borrow from Erving Goffman, digital identity becomes the channel through which you manage your impression and present yourself in everyday (online) life. So Timbuckteeth is a growing part of my digital identity and will be with me for a while yet, because after all.... it's only me.

Creative Commons License
It's only me by Steve Wheeler was written in Plymouth, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Somabula Blog said…
Ask not 'What's in a name?' - you could get much more than you bargained for!

More seriously, very interesting Steve. I cannot say that my digital ids have any of the gravitas that yours do.

ThePython comes from school days. If you have a name like Monty, Python is automatically attached. However, I was also an avid herpetologist in my youth in Rhodesia, amassing a good number of serpents of various sizes and venom strengths. Most, however, were harmless or semi-poisonous, including African Rock Pythons.

One more link to 'Python' is the fact that I also collected firearms of various sorts, which included a number of Colt handguns. The Colt Python 357 Magnum is a serious collectors item.

TheGriffinster... kind of made up in the hope that it would be unique. However, I also have a thing about dragons, which played some part.

However, underlying these identities was the issue of maintaining a level of anonymity when I first began to test the unfamiliar waters of social networking... a sort of nom de guerre. I am not too concerned about this now, but the habit of using an alias has kind of stayed. Whatever, they make our on-line world a more interesting place.

Come to think of it, I have always has this romantic notion of being a spy...
Sarah Stewart said…
Thanks for the explanation-I have always wondered aboiut your name and the avatar.

I don't know if my digital identity is quite what I really want it to be. I feel so constrained by so-called professional standards and the fear that I am going to lket the side down, that I don't break loose like I would like to. So at the moment, I'm trying to build a professional digital identity - it is strongly alligned to midwifery but I need to make it more generic . Or am I getting muddled up with branding? What's the difference?
Jay Jay said…
I recently wrote a blog post along the similar sort of lines - I have had the user name "caffeinebomb"for years - but as my university career develops, I've experimented with "jennifermjones"- two different audiences, same person.

I'm not really sure how it is going to pan out, but the whole realm of "digital identity" fascinates me!

- Jay Jay
Joga said…
This whole issue took on a new meaning when I started posting on a football forum as George Foster's Beard. This was purely in tribute to my favourite player as a youngster and as well as finding a new group of people to go to away matches have found myself re-named in my late thirties and am now greeted and introduced as George. It has almost become an alias for the soccer fan side of me!!!
Robbo said…
Ha ha I loved this blog Steve - it is really interesting about your Digital Identity and it makes me reflect on my own and what the digital identity of my students are... Some interesting research could come of this...

Find out why I am the Chickenman by looking at my Digital Identity at
pablohunny said…
:) Did you ever read Tailchaser's Song by Tad Williams? It covered the idea of everyone (all cats) having two names: a public name and a private name. Only the greatest people have three names - the result of discovering who they truly are. That is their Tail name. (It's been a while, but I'm sure that was the background)

Pablohunny is pretty much my non-legal identity these days - there's so much history behind it and many people only know me by that name (well, online anyway). I was absolutely gutted when I came to Twitter and found someone had stolen *my* name. Then they compounded the offense by not using it very much :(

Ahh well.
Julian S. Wood said…
I guessed all those but obviously not the personal meaning behind them!

Surprised you didn't mention the 'brand' as a digital identity.

I'll await the opening of the Learning with 'e's online shop 1st in the queue for my Timbuckteeth strees ball... ;^)
Ian said…
That is a picture worth 100 words (well 669) many thanks for the explanation; I have wondered. 2001 is such an inspirational and thought provoking creation, I saw it premier when I was 14 I went back and saw it again the next day still the only film I have been inspired to watch twice on big screen.
Steve Wheeler said…
Thanks Ian. I never really understood 2001 until I got involved in technology. Even now I probably don't understand it thoroughly, but for me the monolith that keeps appearing represents disruptive technology - something that changes forever the way we do things.

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