Friday, September 14, 2012

Is the Internet all it's Cracked up to Be

For the longest time I have been a big advocate for the power of the internet to be able to change our lives.  Not merely how we learn, who we learn from, and the resources we have for learning, but how it can really change the world by connecting us to more information, more knowledge, and more knowledgable people.  I work in a school where collaboration is the ideal method of learning, where students and staff are required to work with their peers and with each other as they tackle problems to better engage in learning the standards they are required to know.  The idea that two heads are better than one is becoming ingrained in the DNA of our school, and the idea that two thousand is better than two has great appeal to me.  But what if all of that connecting, all of that information, all of those places to explore and connect, are keeping us from really utilizing our potential.

My summer started with this video from TEDX by Sherry Turkle entitled "Connected but Alone".
In which she speaks of how her daughters spent an evening hanging out with their friends, in the same room, texting each other.   School started with me reading a post by a student, Vett Vandiver, who wrote about the dangers of social media robbing us from living in the moment.  Finally, this week I read a post from Paul Miller of The Verge on how he is spending a year disconnected from the internet.  He speaks of how his life has been going since he disconnected 3 months ago.  How he has more time for other things he enjoys, like talking to people in a coffee shop.

In many ways this is a scary realization and place to be for me.  If you ask any of my friends, I am probably the most connected person they know.  So much so, that I have been very conscious this year about not using my phone to check email during passing periods at school, or while I am in classrooms, or in the cafeteria.  Today for the first time I used my computer during lunch to catch up on email, because I had over 40 for the morning and was waiting on an urgent email from a teacher who I might have needed assistance in preparing for his next class.

But as I have aged this year, I have come to realize that sometimes this connectedness is distracting.  I no longer can multi-task to the degree that I could when I was younger, much to the delight of Dan Funston our assistant superintendent who does not believe that people can multitask.   While I still read extensively, I can never seem to catch up on all my reading-I currently have over 60 articles in my Read it Later App (Pocket), and I have not checked my Feedly account for 2 weeks so the articles have probably piled up to close to 1000.  It is not that I am not selective in what I read, but it is that there is so much more out their to interact with.  The ultimate may have come this weekend when I was at the wedding reception of one of my former students.  During dinner, as my wife chatted with a colleague from work and my daughter played with the Orbies that were filling glasses as a table decoration, I watched Notre Dame battle Purdue on my iPhone propped up against a bowl of nachos with the sound turned off.  I am not sure what was worse, that I was doing this, or that one of the pastors from our church was hanging over my shoulder because he was getting poor reception on his phone.

I am not ready to disconnect quite yet, as I keep finding more positives than negatives from being online.  But I am starting to realize that I need to monitor not so much how I am using the Net, but rather where I am using it and to what ends.  How is your internet habit hindering your potential?

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