Balancing real and virtual worlds

Maybe that “scientific” scare that cellphones (and associated technology) would affect our brains is true.

Our daughter gets up in the morning and immediately checks Facebook.

The son rolls out and checks messages on his smartphone.We don’t touch our phone until after our workout at the club and are in the office or home.

Yes, we text the kids at school.They text each other, even when they’re sitting across from each other.

Their mother uses old-fashioned messaging … she tells us what to do!Recent reports have explored how growing up in the wired, connected world is apparently spiking kids’ attention by short-circuiting their brains.

To show our son the difference between yesterday and today, we went online to YouTube together and watched a number of Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In skits.

You know, nothing more than a couple of minute bits strung together.

Our son mockingly repeated the German soldier, “Very interesting, not very funny, but very interesting.”

He couldn’t/wouldn’t spend a lot of time looking at ancient history stuff because there is just too much going on in the online world.

He feels (and I have to agree) that if you’re disconnected for a few hours you’ll miss something … the world will pass you by.

Social media like Facebook is the fave of our daughter and millions of her peers.

Services Used to Share Online Content While the iGeners may set the pace for most online services, the rest of us aren’t lagging behind. Around the world, people of all ages constantly exchange, share information, ideas and content with their communities and folks who count clicks, visits. Social media gained popularity as a quick, easy means for folks to get in touch and stay in touch, regardless of where they were in the world.

The term “friends” today is almost meaningless.

Now it includes people around the globe with whom you sorta’ share interests and ideas or simply want to keep up with your crowd.

It has evolved into the means for folks to stay in touch with friends, make new friends; plan stuff with friends; share information, ideas, causes; promote themselves, their work.

With well over 600 million potential “friends” on Facebook the site has also attracted businesses bent on promote their ideas, products, services, to make…friends (actually, they just want you to like them).

All of that free social media you tap into, post on, use, know a lot about you.

While the above may be user details about Facebook people, any site/service on the Web can offer up the same – maybe even better – detailed information about individuals who use their free services. Their monitoring/management software can pinpoint just the information advertisers want/need to tailor their marketing messages…cool!

The sites share bits, pieces of your information (actually, they rent it) with companies who encourage you to learn about them, share more of your information with them, share their information with others.

Dan Rowan was fond of saying, “Look THAT up in your Funk and Wagnall’s,”

In today’s world, you look it up at Wikipedia.

Smartphones and other mobile devices have “helped” us ensure we always have our social media connections close.

The Web and social media networks are open to everyone (at least in most of the free world). But it is the GenX, GenY men/women who find the sites and the services to be most rewarding, most fulfilling. Mobile networking almost helps you forget the smartphone can also be used to make a call.

The on-the-go phone has become our indispensible communications tool (you know, the kind you turn around, go back home for when you forget it).

When the smartphone is used at dinner or in a conference/classroom or theater; it only reinforces our inability to be civil, courteous in the real world.

While you might think that over usage of your mobile device might be good for your diet, somehow it just doesn’t seem to work out that way as you look around the restaurant. Is the communication that important, the dinner partner that dull? Well, at least neither is wearing a baseball cap while eating!

GenXers (and beyond) love to complain about how technology has reduced kids’ ability to deal with the real world.

Think your folks said the same thing about you!

No self-respecting professional attends a meeting without a notebook, tablet, smartphone or all three (the more tools, the more status). But monitoring and working with them during a meeting is a little discourteous.

The problem is, we have so much communications today we seem to be becoming more removed, rather than closer.

The barrage of communications adds distance and anonymity, even when you are in the same room.

The always-on communications creates added stress, realistically or artificially reduces our available time, seems to encourage a lack of restraint, produces a feeling of individual insecurity.

The “addiction “and its effects on individuals have been studied by researchers around the globe.

Last year, the New York Times solicited volunteers to give up their online communications for a week (sounded simple to us, we can give up any time we want…we just don’t want to).

As we recall, no one completed the disconnected week.

It didn’t take long for them to feel completely disenfranchised from friends, business associates.

We agree that our kids’ minds are more wired than ours.

We -– like many others — still get our information from a variety of inputs, sources.

While it may seem a little redundant, many people like us use a wide range of media sources for our news, information, continuing education, entertainment. Printed paper just “feels” authoritative.

We use print, radio, TV, online media to get our news, commentaries, in-depth reporting, research, reviews, research.

Our son thinks the “other sources,” are a waste and loves to point out that all of that – and more – is online.

We answer him, “You are not dealing with just anyone’s fool. I am a high-school graduate.”

No, it doesn’t evoke a laugh, but it does remind him we’re older than he is!

We’re not real happy with his – or his peers’ – digital diet, but we recognize that no one is going back to the Laugh-In era.

The best anyone can do is learn how to live comfortably in the virtual and real world … and know the difference between the two.


Kids will increasingly multitask because they can.

The challenge we have as an adult is to encourage them to give their minds a rest by disconnecting and enjoying the people and things around them.

That means actually talking with people, sharing experiences with others, challenging themselves physically/mentally with real world happenings and opportunities.

We’d like them to be able to store up memories that are beyond the virtual world.

We’d like to think that when they get older they’ll be able to walk by people on the street or in the office and say ‘hello,” rather than texting someone in another country.

Or, maybe even do something really dumb like offering their seat in the subway to someone older than themselves, rather than chasing aliens across some barren landscape on their phone.

Maybe saving humanity in our virtual world is more important, but you can hope.

The key is giving them the tools they can use to recognize and respect others and treat them as equals.

It doesn’t seem to be that difficult, but you sometimes wonder when you read about cyberbullying and some of the profane, vulgar, hammering feedback you read on blog reader response pages.

As they get older, you sorta’ hope they’ll agree with Barbara Feldon, “We really learned the 3 Rs ‘Reading, Writing, and Rhythm’.”

We know today’s technology isn’t simply a distraction or time-waster for kids. But…we’d like to ensure they have a healthy balance.

Watching our daughter head off to school with her backpack loaded we do know she’ll never be on the same park bench with Gladys…

“I tried to join the Sexual Revolution, but I flunked the physical.”

Guess when the time comes that will be a good thing!

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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