I have never been a runner…. ever. However, I realize the importance of exercise and make an effort to stay in shape… most of the time. Two ACL surgeries have firmly put me in the ‘low impact’ category of exercise and I have found my cardio main-stay on elliptical machines and stair masters. I get a solid workout without my knee swelling up like a cantaloup. I have used a stair master regularly for at least 15 years… maybe more… at least since my formative teenager years. These many years of using simulated stair-machines have now rendered me helpless in the face of physical steps. I stare at them confused, uncertain of my next move – how do they work? Why don’t they move? I will sometimes stand helpless for hours as I wait for a light to turn on and let me know whether I will be moving up them in “cross-country” or “random” mode while recording my caloric expenditure. I have seen many times that I am not alone. See these poor people trapped on the escalator!
I now fear that my decade long use of the elliptical machine is beginning to affect my gait and that my casual ambling down the street will be the next victim in this long stretch of simulated activity machine incapacity. It won’t be long until free-weights make me unable to lift objects around the house – oh wait, I already have that ailment (or so I tell the friends that I request to come over and ask to carry boxes for me).
This hyperbolic string is part of an exchange I have continued with my friends, peers, and colleagues are a regular basis. Sometimes, these conversations are carried out almost entirely via text message. Still, in spite of the fact that I regularly exchange jibes and jokes and basic communiques via text messages with friends and family, we also chat on the phone and, when we find ourselves in the same town, even get together for a meal or a drink – a real, in life social interaction.
Why am I making this ridiculous point? Well, one of my greatest annoyances about the complaints I hear bout the rise of technological communication is that it hinders and even stunts real-life, social interaction. I hear this remark from my colleagues, friends, families, and online (irony highlighted) all the time – Facebook, Twitter, text messaging, and email have turned us all into socially awkward troglodytes incapable of basic niceties beyond grunts, crude gestures, or poorly spelled exchanges.
Studies and assessments on the topic are often inconclusive or even contradictory. You can see the article by Common Sense Media, “Are Texting and Tweeting making our Students bad Writers?” or the PEW research study “The Impact of Digital Tools on Student Writing.” I can, however, highlight my own observations (as a consumer of electronic media for most of my life) and as a teacher of both the socially advanced and hindered. So, let me tell you a little about myself – I Facebook, I tweet, I email, I text, I blog, I play World of Warcraft (yep, that game), I list serve, I message board, I instant message, I Skype, I iChat, I LOL and if it’s really funny I’ll even RFLMAO. I also go out to wine tastings, have dinner with old friends, travel to Europe with colleagues, go on Southern California Adventures with friends. I have friends (in “real life”) that I’ve known for a year, and those that I’ve known for 20 (and a multitude in between). Other than my crippling social awkwardness around celebrities (sorry Eddie Izzard and Dr. Drew), I am actually a pretty social person. Texting hasn’t rendered me incapable of visiting my friend Michelle in San Francisco – in fact, it helps to keep our relationship on the front-burner as I can send her quick quips when they jump into mind. And when I see her in person, we catch up where we left off.
The world we are in today (for better or worse) is much different than the past. We live far away from friends and family; our peripatetic lifestyles make it virtually impossible for us to keep up with all of the important people in our lives, spread out across the globe, using ‘traditional’ methods. However, with new media (like Facebook) I have been able to see my cousin’s (who lives 1,500 miles away) baby bump photos grow every week with a smile on my face. I get to see my niece’s growth in between visits – her Easter Dress and Halloween Costumes. She live 2,000 away from me, so I miss many events. Facebook, pictures and video messages have helped me to stay involved in those important moments in her life.
Now, I am not saying that I have not seen “socially awkward” children dive into Facebook or Twitter as a sanctuary from the frightening world around them. That is true. In a way, “online” provides them a safe outlet within which they may develop their own persona and thought out responses outside of the physical realm. Not ideal, by any means, but not the first time that this has happened. Before Facebook and Twitter, these were the kids who played Dungeons and Dragons without end or buried themselves in their parents basement with the ham radio. Some were clever enough to find “acceptable” escapes such as reading for hours on end and avoiding interaction with their peers. Children with social awkwardness do need special attention and often must be gently pushed into uncomfortable situations to help improve their abilities to get along with other human beings. This isn’t a new problem.
I propose that the idea that social awkward/technology promote social ineptitude is all wrong. Technology doesn’t cause social awkwardness in teenagers. Kids aren’t ‘forgetting how to write’ because of texting or unable to communicate face to face because they send emails. The reality is that technology and social media are tools – tools that can be used in many way. You can use a hammer to bash in somebody’s brain, but it also works really well for hammering in nails. I have witnessed social butterflies become monarch social butterflies using Facebook and Twitter. I have personally experienced an expansion of my own professional learning network (See my article: “3 Ways to Kickstart your PLN“) using social networking sites (not at the expense of my personal interaction).
In my experience, social media becomes a problem for those who already have a problem – it further exacerbates an existing issue. However, for the mainstay it’s another tool – an expansion of our already social nature.