The Digital Connection

I think it was today, when I received an audio chat invitation from my 11 year old, Marcus, from inside my house, that I realized it had happened. We have officially become totally wired.

Each member of the family now has their own laptop. Miki and I have become Twitter, Facebook and My Space addicts (with My Space now a distant third for me – just too much stuff to keep up with.) I’ve been going through PDA withdrawal now for three days since my iPod touch went missing. Marcus does Virtual School through the web. Naomi turns in assignments to me through Home-school-inc.com, and messages me even when she’s only 10 steps away. Christopher rarely detaches his Blackjack from his fingers for fear losing contact with the phone will signal an early social demise.

Not that I will start pining for the days of tin cans and string being the most advanced communication system available. It would be hypocritical in the least for me to blame my kids for being enthralled by their gadgets when their father practically lives on them. It is simply striking how naturally the digital lifestyle fits them, when some of this technology – Google Maps, audio and video chatting, GPS, etc. – barely existed when they were born.

One topic I am sincerely interested in studying with the kids is how all this technology works. I mean, really – how does my voice show up in a little device a thousand miles away, instantaneously? What kind of electromagnetic energy allows for transmissions from a satellite to my TV dish? And, probably most important, how many people still understand the underpinnings of our digital infrastructure? Is there a self-sustaining brain trust of the finest scientists teaching the next generation of collegiate technocrats? Or, like our economic meltdown, is it simply a house of cards constructed by behemoth companies that no longer understand the depth or complexity of the systems they constructed to support all these technologies? And can we, as consumers of the digital world, continue to be ignorant of how much these systems run our daily lives?

All this puzzles me as I twitter, blog, Skype, and text my way into that same technology driven connection between my closest friends and my most interesting strangers. The connections that this digital lifestyle creates also gives me pause. When did our lives become so fragmented that the only way we feel connected is by placing our thoughts, one moment at a time, on this tapestry of consciousnesses known as Twitter? I’ve quickly become very interested in seeing people’s entries (“Tweets” for the uninitiated), as they give me a glimpse into how other people get through the day. Perhaps it’s because each of us feel like no one else really sees us, anymore. The effort to say, “my thoughts, my feelings matter” has been the single driving force behind the advance of the social media tech boom. When people feel disenfranchised from government, or family, or country in a tangible sense, who else is there to turn to but the blogger across the country that is willing to read your complaints and compliments, that seems to have more in common with you than the neighbor that’s been across the street for years, but still doesn’t know your name?

By no means do I mean to imply that bloggers or Twitterers have no physical or social connections outside of the web. Far from it. I do think it is indicative of our current state that we now feel more connected with who are with us ideologically than who are around us physically. Both my wife and I have been struck by the feeling that many times those around us are simply acquaintances, but not really friends. The hardest part is determining whether it is the fear of rejection by our peers that drives us to connect to our web connections – because they choose to come to us, and it’s instant validation. There’s no pain of getting to know you, of sharing my intimate feelings before acceptance. There’s a click, and a reading of a 120 character bio, some common tag words, and we’re linked. Linked in a way that is both entrancing and, perhaps, unrealistic. But only time will tell if our new Internet personalities end up enhancing or diminishing our ability to connect eye to eye, face to face, voice to voice, instead of Voice to Voice Over Internet Protocol.

I must go now though. My cell phone needs charging, my online planner is in need of updating, and online bills must be paid. Maybe I’ll unplug one of these weekends and show I’m able to give up all the wiredness, quit cold turkey. Surely I’m not addicted to the point that I can’t do a non-digital day. You’ll see.

Well, after I buy a new iPod Touch, that is.

Looking unto the hills,

homeschooldaddy

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