Social Justice in the Online World

Social activism or social slacktivism?

The burning question this week (drum roll please)…

Can online social activism be meaning and worthwhile? 

I think the short answer is yes! Of course. There are meaningful examples of social activism online however I do feel this can quickly become overshadowed by social slacktivism which is becoming more and more visible on my own social feeds now that I’m more aware of armchair activism and tuning in.

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Image via Google Definition

Take the #bringbackourgirls movement for example. Maclean’s article “The Problem with Slacktivism” argues the #BringBackOurGirls campaign is the” latest disgrace from slacktivists, those who support good causes by doing very little, and achieving even less.

A slacktivist is someone who believes it is more important to be seen to heImage result for bring back our girlslp than to actually help.”  It’s become very common to simply comment or share a post of a genuine cause and believe we are helping when in reality it is achieving nothing but a trending hashtag. Is tweeting out a particular hashtag really going to help the cause? The Maclean’s article makes the point that if people really wanted to help, they would simply donate instead of pinning a pink ribbon to their jacket, or not shaving their face in the month of November, claiming “These things are not the talismans of empathetic supporters. They are proof that you care more about yourself than
Image via mirror                                    the cause.”
This leads me to question how many people draw attention to themselves during the Movember campaign or the Ice Bucket Challenge actually fail to donate to the cause, while gaining the positive attention they are looking for.

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Image via @ROSAPRINCEUK

To counteract this, I do believe in many of these causes that go viral and explode on social media draw an impressive amount of attention and awareness, and as a result of the buzz generate more donations than they perhaps would have without the use of social media and doesn’t that account for something?

And then there is opposite side of the spectrum – people who demonstrate fear of judgement for sharing their opinion on hot topic issues and social justice causes. This is something many teachers can relate to in the fear of judgement from parents and most often their employer. Katia Hildebrant makes a compelling argument on her blog post that  “In Online Spaces, Silent Speaks as Loudly as Words”

What message do we send when we say nothing at all?  Katia explains “If we are online, as educators, and we remain silent about issues of social justice, if we tweet only about educational resources and not about the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report in Canada, or about the burning of Black churches in the southern United States, we are sending a clear message: These issues are not important.”

Katia’s argument made rethink my own use of social media and social justice issues. Although I visit my social media feeds often to check the news and occasionally share special events to stay connected to friends and family, I seldom use it as a tool for social activism.  Could I be doing more? Clearly the answers is yes.  Although I will sometimes share a post outlining a cause I believe in, I very rarely involve myself in political posts and discussions. But why? Was I worried about whether people would disagree or judge? I’m not sure – I think partially yes. There is an aspect of fear of judgement. I haven’t made the choice to use social media in this way.Image result for don't speak monkey I could relate to blogger Debs post Why I’m Scared to Express my Opinion Online who commented on the “barrage” of tweet replies a friend received after voicing her opinion online. Although I’ve never experienced this barrage, I often choose not to comment to avoid it. She speaks about avoiding the Twitter drama, which is something I feel holds me back from posting my opinion. I don’t want to get caught up in an online battle and it seems as though people love getting into these heated online debates that really aren’t my personality or style. Do I need to become braver? Do these online battles of opinion make a difference?

Katia’s post made me consider my privilege, along with the responsibilities I have as an educator to model active digital citizenship online. In our second reading from Katia’s blog posts titled “What Kind of Digital Citizen?” was an informative read for me, particularly reading into  Joel Westheimer’s framework about “Kinds of Citizens”. as I immediately thought of my learning project which combines social media use in the classroom using a classroom Twitter account and implementing a digital citizenship curriculum.  I do believe we have a responsibility to teach students how to be responsible citizens and move them along the continuum of being a “Personally Responsible Citizen” who volunteers to someone who advocates organizes, and seeks answers to areas of injustice.


Image via Westheimer’Article as cited by Katia Hildebrandt

Right now, my project is focused on issues such as “The Power of Words” online and more basic, yet still important, aspects of technology use. I think it’s important to remember that students don’t have to stay in this “box” of general citizenship and to think outside the box in terms of also teaching more justice driven citizens.  I think I model digital citizenship but in terms of social activism in an online space, I’m not sure I’m there yet and to be honest I’m not exactly sure how to model this well.

Parting Thoughts & questions
I believe all teachers should share responsibility as educators to provide experiences for students to explore issues of injustice and ways we can help both online and offline. This should happen across all grades so once these students have a foundation of citizenship they can continue to build on this and push outside the box of a personally responsible citizen towards becoming “Justice Oriented”  leaders in the community. This is an exciting prospect and I would like to see some examples of how classrooms and teachers are doing this.

Do you keep your opinions to yourself or are you an open book online?

How do you model social activism in the digital world? 

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Social Media for Change?

Now I’m not one to be a Debbie Downer, however I feel as though my last post focused on the negative issues surrounding social media. I addressed a lot of my concerns regarding social media in the classroom including issues of privacy, and cyber safety just to name a few. But overall, I’m much more drawn to the positive aspects social media has to offer. This week, I chose to counteract the negative and dig into the positive aspects of social media and how it can be used in  ways – and in some cases make a very positive impact on our world! There’s pro’s and con’s to everything and just as social media is capable of doing a lot of damage when not careful, it is also capable of helping those in need and spreading a whole lot of love, happiness and positive vibes.  Today – let’s focus on the GOOD!

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Response to Natural Disasters

Not only does social media provide immediate information when it comes to natural disasters but it significantly contributes to disaster relief – anything from raising money to locating survivors.

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Image via Trendhunter

Heather Lessen  explains the use of digital responders during disasster response. She states “Digital responders can immediately log on when news breaks about a natural disaster or human-created catastrophe. Individuals and teams are activated based on skill sets of volunteer and technical communities. These digital responders use their time and technical skills, as well as their personal networks in an attempt to help mitigate information overload for formal humanitarian aid in the field. These digital humanitarians will help close the gap in worldwide disaster response.”  Aside from the importance of digital responders, think of how quickly word can spread about world disasters today compared to 30 years ago.

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Image via Trendhunter

Healthcare and Public Health

Social media has helped many people suffering from the same condition seek support, ask questions, and connect with others experiencing the same condition. Yes, there is a flip side to this as we all have friends who rapidly self diagnose using Web MD and convince themselves that they only have days to live. There is of course the positive side which allows instantaneous information to medical information at the quick of a button. “28% of health-related conversations on Facebook are supporting health-related causes, followed by 27% of people commenting about health experiences or updates.” (source: Infographics Archive). Don’t even get me started on the positive aspects of fitness and healthy lifestyle apps! Amazing!

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Image via National Prevention Information Network

Check out this link here for “24 Outstanding Statistics and Figures On How Social Media Has Impacted the Health Care Industry”. Interesting read!

Platform for Change

Remember the ice bucket challenge? This phenomenon was likely the most obvious but impressive example of how social media can make a positive impact! “More than 17 million people [in 2014] uploaded their challenge videos to Facebook … watched by 440 million people a total of 10 billion times. It is now an annual event to raise awareness and funds to find treatments and a cure. By the end of September 2014, ALSA had received an incredible $115 million from IBC donators—in less than 60 days. This represented an increase of over 3,500% in funds raised over the same two-month period in 2013, equal to 375% of its annual revenue for the previous fiscal year. It consisted mostly of small donations (but with some ranging up to $200,000) and came from over 3 million donors, over 2/3 of whom were new. According to ALSA, more than $220 million was ” (CPAJournal). Don’t forget the hours of entertainment in blooper and Celebrity Ice Bucket Challenges videos.

Building Empathy

I really enjoyed reaBell-Lets-Talk-003-001blogpic.jpgding Dani’s post about many other positive aspects to social media. On her most recent blog post, she “celebrates and acknowledge the amazing work of organizations like Kids Help Phone or Bell Let’s Talk for opening the conversations about how important self care, understanding and empathy are, and for being Image via The Brock Press                  there to support youth and adults in our province.”                                                                      Social media widely contributes to the awareness of                                                                    these support for teens.
It seems as though everything has it’s pro’s and con’s and social media is no different. However, it did feel good to read about such great, powerful things happening around the world thanks to something that often gets a bad rap such as social media outlets. I think social media can have the power to transform many situations and the possibilities are difficult to imagine!

What are some of your favorite examples of social media being used for positive change?

Teaching in the Digital Age


Hey there teachers, parents, students – people of the digital age! What an interesting time to take on the role of teacher – parent – or student because our world is advancing at such high speeds that one’s experiences today are hard to relate to even 10 years ago and I can only imagine it will also be wildly different even jut 10 years from now. We can’t look model the way we teach, parent or learn based exactly on our own childhoods or educational experiences in the exact same ways because the context in which we learn, play and experience life  has changed so much. This brings up some concerns about teaching in the digital age.

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It is almost an overwhelming question:
How do you teach children to succeed in a rapidly changing world and an uncertain future?

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When I think about this loaded question, I begin to think more and more about the importance of teaching transferable skills and can be adapted and applied to a wide variety of tasks and skills. In the Ted Talk titled “Knowledge is Obsolete, So Now What?, Michael Wesch claimed that “64% of school children will have jobs that don’t exist today”. Wow! It’s hard to even process that. It’s impossible to even know what kinds of careers we are meant to be preparing our children for if the chances are more favorable that they will have a job that doesn’t even exist, than a job we know of today. One of the biggest take away’s from Michael’s Ted Talk was when he said…

“Teach the application of knowledge, rather than knowledge itself.”

Most of my childhood education was spent studying and memorizing meaningless facts or pieces of information that I forget today. Although I feel there has been a shift away from this style of teaching, there are still students everywhere learning “google-able” facts.

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Image via Madan Neelapu

Should we be teaching information that can be answers by a simple google search?
blog pic 5Personally, if students are googling most of their information, I think it should almost be a requirement to teach students how to find accurate sources of information online and how to tell whether a source if fact or fiction. Many of my students, like many, are quick to believe everything they read online. Teaching how to filter through sources of information to find a reliable news source is in my opinion a critical step in helping children succeed in the digital age.

In Amy ‘s most recent blog post, she addresses the concern of student motivation with the advancement on technology. Amy’s question “How can we as educators have students motivated to learn and apply information when it is at their finger tips?” really got me thinking. My students are often so drawn to technology, but I wonder if living in a time where we have unlimited access to information has impacted our ability to think critically about the information our students’ read.

How can we engage students in technology while promoting critical thinking in the process?

A second concern I have with educating children in the digital age is cyberbullying. Although technology can open the door for extended socialization and can make some students more comfortable to voice their opinion behind the “shield” of their phone or computer, it can also open the door for negative interactions to happen more freely. It shouldn’t be up to young students to navigate these issues alone. Having these discussions at home and school are really important. Mary Hertz, author of Edtopia’s article titled “How to Teach Cyber Safety to Younger Elementary Students” states “With children spending time online at younger and younger ages, it’s vital we explicitly teach young children how to protect themselves online.”  I can remember learning about talking to strangers as a young student, however, now we are having the same conversations about privacy and stranger danger in the online world.
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As part of my learning project which involves using Twitter in the classroom, I’m using the K-12 Common Sense K-12 Digital Citizenship Curriculum to overcome many of my concerns with cyber safety. If you haven’t checked out the Common Sense Digital Citizenship Curriculum, I highly suggest you do as it is a very well laid out, easy to use curriculum complete with specific lessons and units for every grade level!

The curriculum is designed to empower students to think critically, behave safely, and participate responsibly in our digital world. From lesson plans, videos, student interactives, and assessments, to professional learning and family outreach materials, our turnkey Curriculum provides schools with everything they need to take a whole-community approach to digital citizenship”

What are you’re main concerns with teaching in the digital age & how do you plan to overcome these challenges?

2 First Days of School & a Learning Project: Follow the Journey @cameronscorner1

This has been a very unique start to the school year and it all began the day my school gained a teacher halfway through the month of September. What does this really mean? Well all of our kids re-shuffled grades – including myself. I went from teaching a group of 3/4 students to a new group of 4/5 students and experienced 2 “First Day of School’s” in one school year. I’ve taught grade 4/5 before so I wasn’t too thrown off by the sudden grade change, however I am feeling a tad bit behind in my teaching and where I would have hoped to be at the beginning of the October in terms of classroom routines, teaching content, and of course my learning project which involves my students & bringing Twitter into the classroom.  The positive side is this minor set-back in time has allowed me to explore Twitter behind the scenes apart from my classroom and begin to read – read – read!

Welcome to our classroom at the new Connaught Community School!
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The end of September was spent establishing routines (again) with my new group of kiddos , attending the internship seminar and getting to know my new students learning styles areading picnd personalities. Since this was a hectic 2 weeks in the classroom I spent my learning project time focused on setting up our classroom Twitter account, researching the “Do’s and Don’t’s” of using Twitter in the classroom, collecting parent permission for social media use,  exploring how to use Twitter in general, informing parents of my intentions of using Twitter in the classroom.  along with brushing up on issues of student privacy.

I have a rarely used personal Twitter account from my bachelor degree days – so the basics were a much needed review but were fairly straight forward. What bring me anxiety was reading the hundreds of ways to use Twitter. Ah! Where do I even begin??

So to wrap my head around it – I browsed the many possibilities Twitter has to offer and decided to focus on my own classroom Twitter and get my feet wet by sharing our learning. Currently to get started, I’ve Tweeted out the first few updates and will slowly transition to a point where students will take over the responsibility of sharing and creating tweets.

I have also explored Alec’s recommended documents with suggestions of educators to follow, education related hashtags and the tips and tricks demonstrated within class.
Learning the Basics!
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Photo via edudemic

Inform & Connect with Families
I came across an educator online from Windsor, ON by the name of Kristen Wideen. Mrs. Wideen’s blog provided a very helpful starting point for me and it’s definitely worth a visit!  I also adapted her Parent Letter, as seen below, as my own starting point for a letter. I pulled key points and adapted her letter to fit my own situation. I took her advice regarding following only other educators – not necessarily following parents back as I hadn’t considered the repercussions of others personal twitter content popping into our classroom news feed.

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I really enjoyed reading about other teachers mistakes using Twitter and what they learned in hopes to avoid any trouble and start rolling with my project smoothly. For example, Kristen identified the following rather helpful “mistakes” which you can explore in further detail here.

#1 Classroom Twitter Mistake
The Teacher creates and publishes the tweets.

*Rule # 1 and already an Oops in my project 

#2 Classroom Twitter Mistake
Jumping right in without laying the ground work first.

#3 Classroom Twitter Mistake
Leaving the parents out of the loop

#4 Classroom Twitter Mistake
Keeping the Class Twitter Account Locked Down

These common mistakes were a great starting point to lock down areas of focus during the first two weeks. My priority has been connecting to families, following educational accounts, and sharing our learning. Basically – jumping into it and building upon my learning each week. From here I would like to continue to explore issues of students privacy and check out how other classrooms are using Twitter within the classroom.

Now time for my shameless plug – follow our classroom on Twitter @cameronscorner1 🙂

Wish me luck!
Ms. Cameron

 

 

Embracing Social Media in the Classroom

As technology continues to grow and develop, we have a choice in our personal and professional lives to embrace or resist it. Personally, I believe it’s easier for many to be resistant to change and remain doing things the same way one has always done. Although, what may be “Easy” isn’t always the right thing to do.  If we expect our students to be able to navigate the tech- savy world we live in today, we are doing a great injustice if we resist teaching about the complexities of social media and let students learn to navigate this on their own. Bringing twitter, blogging and other social media tools into the classroom can help model proper use and prevent many perhaps devastating or unsafe situations for our students in the future. Karen Lederer draws  attention to many common advantages and disadvantages of social media in the classroom.  Here is my take on it.

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Photo Credit

In my opinion, the lack of education in terms of digital citizenship, internet safety and proper use of these tools can be a great disservice to our students who will be learning to navigate the digital world outside of our classroom regardless if we chose to address these issues. I like to think it is my responsibility to integrate technology in a way that prepares students to make wise decisions in relation to how they use the internet in positive ways. There will always be advantages and disadvantages to learning “in the open”, however having students explore these complexities within the classroom could better prepare them to use technology successfully. Embracing technology and making students aware of the advantages and disadvantages has the potential to promote the positive use of social media and open the door more positive learning opportunities and interactions, especially when students begin to use these tools on their own outside of the classroom walls.

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Photo Credit: Say It Social

Giving students the opportunity to share their work within a larger community offers many advantages such as the ability to collaborate with others, engage learners and seek and provide feedback.  The enhanced level of communication between home and school is also a major advantage. Being connected within the classroom offers a window into the classroom that didn’t exist during my education. Many parents have commented that they feel more connected and enjoy seeing what their kids are doing each day through classroom twitter updates or Dojo “class stories” which are similar to Instagram stories except limited to a private audience.

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Unfortunately, not everything can be sweet as pie and social media within the classroom can have its struggles as well. However by being aware of the cons to social media in the classroom can prevent some future disasters when it comes down to issues of oversharing and internet safety.  I quite enjoyed Colleen’s reference to using the “Grandma Rule” when it comes to sharing online. She also cautions us to consider whether or not we would want our boss or future employer to see what we post. I completely agree with this as it is so important to “think before your post” and this is why I tend to keep my Twitter account as primarily a professional account. Even though I don’t share many political things to Facebook, I also tend to be very careful with my privacy settings to separate my personal life from parents and students as much as I can.  The article Oversharing: Why Do We Do It and How Do We Stop?  advises one to “Think or more specifically, think ahead” when it comes to sharing online.

Imagine the ripple effect of the piece of information you are about to share. Imagine your mother, children, partner/spouse, boss and any other relevant person knowing what you are about to divulge. Imagine meeting new people who posses the piece of information you are about to disclose. Think about that information in the public domain today, and think about it in the public domain decades from now. Still OK with it? Then wait, and think again. Time, consideration and reflection are the antidotes to oversharing, so take and use all three.

Many are also concerned about students misusing these tools and as a teacher myself, my main concern is whether the students are engaging in it effectively, or merely distracted by it. Another potential disadvantage is the amount of time it takes to teach these important skills – however my favorite back to motto is “Slow if Fast”. Taking the time out of the regular outcome driven day to teach routines, procedures and set expectations for technology use is really setting yourself up for a more successful outcome. Issues of privacy also continue to be a major concern and one as teachers we must be vigilant about. Check out this helpful guide from Common Sense Education for a thorough list of Do’s and Don’ts” regarding how to protect student privacy on social media. Another interesting issue that Kelsie speaks about on her most recent blog post includes additional issues of protection and who owns what is posted. I find this fascinating because although we as teachers are constantly creating and uploading resources, it is not very clearly stated (at least in my opinion) which resources belong to me, and which resources belong to my employer. I’m probably not the only educator out there who is also foggy on the details as to ownership. Have these clauses from your employer regarding ownership ever impact what you create/post and how you do this? For example the creation of Teachers Pay Teachers resources.

All in all, despite the many considerations when it comes to social media in the classroom, I definitely think the pro’s outweigh the cons. Taking the time to introduce students to it in a safe way that outlines expectations clearly can dissipate many of the initial fears towards using social media in the classroom. It’s hard to make the statement that social media is either worth using or not in the classroom as it so highly depends on how it is being used, the skills taught and gained and the value of the experience for students. It is not whether or not it should be used, but rather how it is being used.

Happy Blogging!

 

 

To Tweet or Not to Tweet…

Choosing a narrow focus for my major project has been a bit challenging. I’ve bounced between a creating a project rooted out of passion or purpose and have ultimately decided to integrate something I’ve wanted to do within the classroom for a while now – exploring using Twitter in the classroom.

The “runner up” project idea was exploring photography. However, I feel integrating Twitter into my classroom is a perfect learning opportunity to explore something that I’ve been putting on the back burner and often feel “too busy” to take the time outside of university & work to explore.  It helps to have the time dedicated towards reading and exploring carved out each week as part of this class and gaining a deeper understanding and appreciation for Twitter may allow me to enhance my students learning experience and potentially result in my using this tool in my classroom in the years to come. To be honest, I’ve never completely “bought in” to the Twitter experience, but will admit I have yet to give it a solid chance.I want to explore Twitter, alongside my students, by reading, learning and playing around with different things without it feeling “forced”.  I want to feel more comfortable and confident navigating all of the possibilities Twitter affords. It’s time to stop putting it on the back burner and get started! The only way to learn is to try!

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Image via Denis Nguyen

One of the ongoing projects in my classroom involves finding a means of communicating with parents that really works. When I say really works, I mean engages the most amount of parents and keeps parents in the loop and involved in their child’s learning. For years I focused many hours each week on creating a weekly blog update. This blog included pictures, information, parent tips etc. This works well in some schools I’ve taught in, however my blog wasn’t receiving much traffic since moving to a community school. I knew I had to switch it up and try something different. This year I’ve decided to use class dojo as a main communication tool, and have created a classroom Twitter account that will replace my classroom blog. However, I don’t just want to use Twitter for parent communication, but rather spend some time learning how to use Twitter in different ways and for different purposes.

So many Inspiring Examples of Twitter in the Classroom!

Possible Avenues to Explore in my Major Project:
Tips for getting started
Teaching Digital Citizenship
Twitter Etiquette – Using Twitter in the classroom safely
Expand Learning Possibilities
Network & Collaborate beyond the classroom
Connect with Parents

If you have any suggestions for other key topics for me to dive into I’d love to hear them! Any feedback you may have is greatly appreciated!

 

The Unrealistic Reality of Unplugging

The idea of unplugging to relax – gain some peace and quiet if you will – while completely disconnecting from all tech distractions is tempting. There have been many times where the idea of completely turning off my phone for an entire day seems alluring. I have friends who disconnect their Facebook temporarily during busy times of their lives such as during finals or report card season. But is the all or nothing approach all rainbows and lollipops? Being addicted to your phone isn’t creating a healthy relationship, but this “yo-yo” relationship of using tech and detoxing from it continually, in my opinion, isn’t the healthiest approach either.

When first signing up for the debate, my team and I rushed to sign our names up under the “agree” side. Our first instinct was that we were becoming too dependent on technology and we need to unplug. We were interested in arguing with the side we felt most comfortable with at the time, and being interested in mindfulness within the classroom and cultivating a lifestyle of balance, arguing the need to unplug felt most natural. “Let’s do this!!”…. “Oh, wait…we’re too late!” But guess what! I think I learned more than I ever could by arguing the opposite side of my initial beliefs. To be honest, I’m not completely convinced anymore that we need to unplug. I believe we can remain plugged in and make smart choices about when and how we use technology. Let me tell you why…

Although the above video makes a powerful statement.I don’t think this issue, like nearly every debate is so black and white.  If you heavily overuse social media and don’t have any balance in your life you may be able to relate to this video – although he is very convincing, I would like to reflect on the flip side! Tech is not all bad, all of the time! Why do we have to rush to extremes. Technology can’t be that bad if ultimately each time you escape to detox for a day, a week, a month… you always return to adapting to the world of tech. Technology is naturally part of how we manage our day to day lives, communicate with others and overall how our world works! It just is.

However, after researching, discussing, questioning and re-reading again I began to feel completely disconnecting was unnecessary. When I decided to unplug for an entire day, the ultimate test of what side of the debate I really was on, it felt unnatural.  It’s not unusual for me to put my phone down for hours on end, but I noticed during the times I consciously isolated myself from tech, it was difficult when I wanted to ask a question, make plans or take a picture to remember a moment. This isn’t how I would naturally live my day to day life so why am I trying to create a life that isn’t authentic to how I regularly live. I lead a happy, healthy lifestyle without having to disconnect from everything because I’m in control of how much time I spend on my phone and ultimately whether I even need to have it out.  It wasn’t realistic for me. In fact, the idea of unplugging completely made me feel more stressed than actually staying connected while spending my time with tech more mindfully. Can I go on a hike without my phone. Of course. In a world that revolves around tech it’s great to escape it for a short while, but to completely unplug for long periods of time was only making it more difficult to connect with others who purely rely on tech.

If everyone around me wasn’t using technology, sure it would be easy! It would be just like it was when we were younger – ah the nostalgia. But cutting myself off from tech made me feel disconnected from friends and family when they continued to rely on communicating with tech. I only see my parents a handful of times each year – disconnecting from tech would completely change the relationship I have with them and many of my other friends and family members. Some argued during last night’s debate that cultivating relationships purely online isn’t authentic or “real” communication. But considering the alternative – no technology – I would choose to continue building relationships online with close friends who move away for a new job. Having a conversation with my niece over Facetime is much better then the alternative snail mail that 2 year olds wouldn’t understand anyway. I know people who completely build an entire relationship through tech, after only meeting briefly while traveling etc.  Many people meet the love of their life online. Who are we say relationships formed online are not authentic. Sure, communicating with strangers online is extremely impersonal, and not all communication is going to create meaningful relationships. There are different ways of communicating online and offline for different purposes. However, tech does allow me to strengthen relationships with friends and family despite long distances between us.

Why do I need to completely disconnect when I could use self-control and make the choice to focus my time on other activities. For me, unplugging or disconnecting feels unnatural and unrealistic. A lot of people disconnect from social media accounts only to post the status “I’m back – what did I miss?” after a few short days. Our physical lives and digital lives are intertwined. Taking a break from being connected to others seems more unbalanced to me than learning to live with technology by creating positive habits. Balance is just that- balance. It doesn’t refer to an “all or nothing” approach. I don’t think we need to choose whether to connect or disconnect but rather stay connected without constantly being glued to your phone. I’m capable of going for a walk or out to coffee with friends without checking my phone. I can create a balanced lifestyle while remaining plugged in. I believe it is important to unplug in the sense that our phones shouldn’t control meaningful moments in our lives. I don’t believe in having face to face conversations with others while on my phone (It’s called manners people!), and I can enjoy a beautiful meal without feeling the need to take a picture of it and post it to social media at the dinner table. I’m not saying we should be plugged in at all times, but we should be able to remain plugged in and adopt healthy actions. How we shape our lives can affect how we use technology.

Technology – the very thing that creates stress and anxiety with over use, can also help us to create balance in our lives. Some of the ways I choose to unwind involve technology. Although I don’t need to constantly be with technology, there are certainly benefits to using it and after reading more on the topic I realized just how much I use technology to help unwind. First of all, tracking my run using the Fitbit or Runkeeper apps keeps me as motivated as the music I play to keep my pace. Music is big for me and using a yoga playlist during my practice on the mat helps switch things up or just relax after a busy day. There are also apps for guided meditations that also help people relax in positive ways. Why can’t I unwind while being still accessible to the digital world. After all, isn’t that what balance is all about?

Some may argue that we are losing touch with one another because of the amount of time spent using technology. However, the article In Defense of Tech: Why We Don’t Need to Unplug argues that tech brings us closer together and lets us stay connected to one another more than ever before. It states the real culprit is the american lifestyle with only 57% of people using up their vacation time and the workaholic lifestyle. It’s not technology itself that causes stress, but the ways in which we interact with it – especially for long periods of time. We need to learn to make decisions throughout or day that create balance, and learn when our bodies alert us to take a break from tech.

Tim O’Reilly encourages us to see the power of technology and questions “How can we use the capabilities of our devices to build human experiences?” Like most things, technology can also be viewed in a positive or negative light. But instead of focusing on the addictive, unhealthy and negative aspects of tech, we could choose to focus on the ways technology enriches our lives. Sure, some people are addicted to their phones, but not everyone displays these addictive behaviors. It is possible to adopt a balanced approach while making the most of how you integrate technology into your daily routines.

Shelly Turkle argues that we have “second self” online. However, I’m more drawn to the idea of digital dualism which argues that our physical and digital realities are one in the same. Our lives online are so meshed with our personal lives that a separate is difficult to achieve and unnatural. Who we are online is an extension of our lives offline. 

I found an interesting Huffington Post article, “Closer Together or Farther Apart”  that begins with grandparents feeling disappointed in their grandchildren for being on their phones and “not communicating”, when actuality they are connected and communicating exactly the way digital natives do. 24770825616_5292a3aef7 This generation grew up with the internet and it’s not going away anytime soon. This article mentions that “digital immigrants” or baby boomers who had to adjust to technology see things differently. This reminds me of the “tech ruins childhood” argument because we often judge the generation after us  as being “less in touch” or “too
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dependent on technology” because their childhood may look different than ours. Different is not a bad thing, however seeing children communicating primarily through tech when we grew up mailing letters and having to answer our phones with even knowing who was calling, makes it easy to quickly form an opinion that the “old way was the best way”. If you didn’t grow up with this lifestyle, you may be more apt to believe this new way of communicating is driving people further apart. For digital natives, this is just how the world communicates! Here is another additional read that gives some pretty solid examples of how technology is bringing generations closer together.

Why Everyone Should Unplug suggests that “even brief activities such as taking a short walk (sans phone, of course), spending time in nature, or daydreaming can help the brain reboot. But without free time (i.e. totally unstructured and without Facebook, idle web surfing, or TV), it’s impossible to fully learn new skills and keep the brain at its cognitive best”  I completely agree that time away from tech is extremely important for our health and well-being, but argue that we should be cultivating balanced practices every day. It shouldn’t have to be all or nothing! We should be able to experience the best of both worlds without completely abandoning such an integral part of our every day lives. Unplugging for an afternoon or a day or two? Sure thing! But to feel the need to purposely remove myself from all tech for weeks at a time could be an indicator that I need to look at how much time I’m spending on technology in the first place.

It’s all about balance! Do you regularly disconnect? Do you think it’s possible to create balance while co-existing with technology?