Monday, August 13, 2012

The Disconnected Educator

Admittedly, that is a strange title for a blog post. And certainly a strange title for a blog post from an educator who evangelizes about the wonders of Twitter, RSS feeds, wikis, and every other way to increase our connectedness to one another.

However, this post is really and truly about the flip side of all of that. I just returned from a three-week family vacation in Israel. Given the many costs involved with the trip, when it came to getting a phone, I opted to simply get one that could make phone calls (texting came with it, but I never used it as the phone had no keyboard of any sort and I am spoiled in that regard) - no data plan. In other words, I was able to check my email and get online while we were at our home base, but while we were out seeing the country, locating the best spot to have schwarma, or just visiting friends and family, there was no way for my to quickly check my inbox or a score update.

Even further, since I only brought an ipad with me, my time online was more limited as I am not as comfortable flipping around from one app to another. My Twitter life has been almost nonexistent for the last three weeks. My Facebook posts were minimal, as I do not announce to the world when I am half a planet away from home (OK, maybe a bit paranoid). Even when I did check in on work-related emails, I only responded when they were urgent.

And the shocking result? I survived. Not only did I manage to make it through without constant connectivity, but it was truly liberating. I was able to give my full attention to my family and our vacation without feeling that pull from my holster to make "just a quick check." More than that, I returned home not feeling as if I had to immediately get back to my online life. I have slowly perused items in my RSS reader. I have ignored whatever I missed on Twitter - there is too much to read even when you are sitting at your desk, certainly too much to catch up on after a few weeks.

For all that we talk about the need to be online and to make good use of social media, we have to balance that talk with the idea that we do not need to be engaged in social media 24 hours a day. As with many things that we do, our initial forays into new apps or forms of media can be marked by an all-consuming need to spend a lot of time posting, tweeting, tagging, linking, and just reading all that others have to offer us. However, eventually it is crucial to bring a sense of equanimity and calm to our online worlds. It is rare that life is moving so fast that we will completely miss out on things if we log in a few hours later, and vacations are meant to be enjoyed, not to be a source of stress because we are not as connected as we always are. If we have done a good job in building our social networks, then we should have constructed networks of people who understand that we all need a break once in a while, perhaps even for a few hours every day when we focus on our work or our family or on some mindless activity that is important to our mental health. Taking a big break helped to drive this point home to me. Hopefully it stays with me as life kicks back into high gear.

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