click here in case you want to read it), I figured it might be a good idea to revisit why many of us seem so tied to the internet and social media.
If you're reading this, chances are you spend at least some amount of your time blogging or posting or texting or liking or tweeting or poking and so on. If you're an author or somehow involved in publishing (or any commodity sales for that matter), then you probably spend a whole lot of time (perhaps more than you'd like?) on various social networking forums such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook ... and does anyone even do Myspace anymore? Regardless, you get the idea.
The question is, why do we do it? Why do we text while sitting at a stop light? Why would two young, attractive twenty-somethings sitting outside a restaurant, obviously waiting on a table for their dinner date, both be busy texting others on their phones instead of talking to each other? Why do we compulsively check our email every five minutes while at work? Why do we constantly compose 140-word bytes and send them off into cyberspace, perhaps never to be heard from again? What do we gain from this kind of behavior? Has electronic socializing taken the place of meeting up for coffee and conversation face-to-face? Has it taken the place of personal interaction? Is texting more personally rewarding than actually spending time with someone face to face?
There are obvious reasons why electronic communication can sometimes be preferred ... texting someone when you're in a boring situation, or texting someone when you're with someone else whose company is less desirable. Or texting or otherwise contacting a group of people to inform or even mobilize them. Electronic communication provides the power to connect across great distance, and with the proper setup, it can provide communication access to a lot of like-minded individuals, even strangers. It can give the illusion of being in two places at once. But as with any powerful tool, it should be used responsibly. Because, really, it only provides access. How and when you use that access is still important and requires prudence as well as thoughtful restraint.
One of the most common pitfalls of a new technology that seems to make life easier is addiction and abuse. It's easy to get sucked into the belief that a netherworld of wonder and power awaits at your fingertips. You may be led astray by this new lover, tempted to forsake friends and family for the lure of a whole new eworld out their. But after the newness wears off, don't forget that your computer's not going to laugh at your stupid jokes or give you a hug when you feel down. Your phone is just a tool, a gadget that gets you access to the people you care about. Remember that your loved ones are loved ones because you love them - so don't neglect them in the glow of your iPad screen, seeking out the next new internet surprise, whether it's some silly video or a new game app. If you're separated by distance from your loved ones, electronic communication may provide you a way to stay in touch - but it's no substitute for a hug and a kiss goodnight.
So when you're in that boring strategy meeting and you're not going to be called upon to participate actively, then, yes, maybe it's okay to text your wife and tell her you'll be home later than you thought. Or if you're stuck in traffic - traffic that's not moving! - maybe it's okay to call your kid and tell him you'll be a little late to pick him up from band practice. Just remember, that text joke isn't more important than you responsibly and safely operating a 2500-pound vehicle capable of mowing down innocent pedestrians. That phone call isn't more important than you looking appropriately busy to keep your boss happy so you can keep your job. And blog surfing to find something - anything - interesting to read isn't more important than making sure your kids' lunches are fixed for school the next day. Take care of priorities first, when they need to be taken care of, and leave electronic playtime for when you really do have downtime and aren't being called upon to be a good father, mother, daughter, son, sister, or brother.
Remember that electronic communication, like anything else, is a convenience, a tool, but it is not a lifestyle. Don't define who you are and what your life is about by how many Twitter followers you have. There really is more to life than Facebook. Make sure you get your nose out of your phone screen once in a while to smell the roses along the way. You'll be a much happier and more well-rounded person if you do. And you can tweet me on that!
Pat Morrison, Penumbra Publishing