In the world we live in today, it is almost impossible not to have some sort of digital presence. E-mail has replaced snail mail, texting has replaced phone calls, and Facebook has replaced conversations. As sad as this is, I am finding it to be true, especially after looking at my own digital footprint. I am connected. My phone is always with me and I check it a 100 times a day. It has become an extension of my right arm, but I never fully realized how "plugged-in" I was until sitting down and looking at how I connect with those around me.
I live in a state that has no connection to my family. My immediate family lives in Georgia; I in Florida, and my extended family reside in West Texas. I stay in touch with my childhood friends through Facebook, my college and industry colleagues through Twitter. I met my fiancé on an online dating website and I work with a few warm bodies, but teach online. After college, my world went physical interaction to nearly all digital and with the exception of the occasional national session, I attend school in an online platform. However, with as much as my life is online, I feel more connected to people than ever before. According to a study done on Facebook and the relationship it has to social capital, "It is clear that the Internet facilitates new connections, in that it provides people with an alternative way to connect with others who share their interests or relational goals."
I do not believe the Internet has changed how we connect with people but rather the ease in which it happens. You no longer need to ask a person what their interests are to get to know them, but rather can click on their interests, join a site, or receive updates from like-minded people by simply clicking a button. To give an example of this connectivity outside of the typical e-mail or tweet, I will refer to the online petition site Change.org. According to Reuters, via Yahoo.com, "The mother of a gay California Boy Scout denied an Eagle award because of his sexual orientation is fighting to overturn the decision before he turns 18, the cut-off date for the organization's highest honor,” they go onto say, "A petition launched by Andresen on Change.org, an Internet social change platform, calls on his troop to reject the Boy Scouts of America's discriminatory policy against gays and give the California teenager his Eagle rank." I use this as an example because, while the online world is a way to stay connected with those closest to us, it is also a way to spark social change. This is an area of the digital world that has just started to take hold.
Like in any society the advancements made can be used for great things, but they can also become a hindrance. At a Ted Talk in February, Sherry Turkle talks about how technology has become a way for us to be together without being together, "People text or do email during corporate board meetings. They text and shop and go on Facebook during classes, during presentations, actually during all meetings. People talk to me about the important new skill of making eye contact while you're texting," she adds, "We are getting used to a new way of being alone together."
As I mentioned in a discussion post from class, "with great power comes great responsibility." (Spider Man, 2002) Ok so I quoted rather than mentioned, but this idea fits with what I have been talking about. There needs to be a balance between how we juggle our online persona and our real life persona. In his book, Ohler mentions (p.55), "a mediated culture changes a number of traditional roles, causing "'a very discernible rearrangement of the social stages on which our roles and [that causes] a resulting change in our sense of 'appropriate behavior'" (as cited in Meyrowitz, 1985, p.4).
This change, if not recognized can send us down the wrong path where we are alone. However, if we recognize it, we can use it to our advantage and become successful digital citizens. We need to balance how we act online and not ignore the real world around us. Clay Shirky, in his TED Talk tells us about two values, Civic value and Communal value. The former is the "value created by the participants but enjoyed by society as a whole." and the latter is the "value created by the participants for each other." In certain ways we create material (i.e. pictures of cute cats, the new apartment we just moved into, and emails to a far away relative) to stay in touch just for each other. In other ways, as in the online petition and social issue blogs, we create material for ourselves that will help society as a whole.
We live in this world, both physically and digitally, so as citizens it is up to us to take care of it. We need to understand our physical world to participate in the digital one, which means finding a balance between the betterment of ourselves and the betterment of society. We should transfer what we've learned in the real world and apply it to the digital realm and become citizens of both.
Ellison, N. B., Steinfield, C. and Lampe, C. (2007), The Benefits of Facebook “Friends:” Social Capital and College Students’ Use of Online Social Network Sites. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 12: 1143–1168. doi: 10.1111/j.1083-6101.2007.00367.x
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Ohler, J. (2010). Digital Community, Digital Citizen. CA: Corwin.
Shirky, C. (2010). YouTube: How cognitive surplus will change the world. Retrieved October 2, 2012 from http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/clay_shirky_how_cognitive_surplus_will_change_the_world.html
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