Keep Your Feet
Posted by lisamrohloff
“It’s a dangerous business, going out of your door.
You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet,
there’s no telling where you might be swept off to.”
The modern digital world can be both wonderful and frightening. We have this wide world of digital opportunities in which we can participate, but there are dangers on the road. For our journey to be successful and safe, we must be aware of the pitfalls – be mindful – keep our feet.
How to Keep Your Feet
We’re all at different stages of our digital journey. Some are just starting out, hearing about new opportunities and either reluctantly or curiously stepping out onto this road. These travelers might be familiar with some digital mediums such as email and smart phones. Then there are those who are at the front of the pack. The have every new device possible and regularly engage those devices to participate in social media, access information, and order products. All of us are at some point along this road. But, wherever each person is at, there is one thing we all need to do – we need to keep our feet.
In chapter 3 of his book Net Smart How to thrive online, Howard Reingold writes,
“In the world of digitally networked publics, online participation – if you know how to do it – can translate into real power” (p. 114). He goes on to write, “Done mindfully, digital participation helps build a more democratic, more diverse culture – a participatory one” (p. 75). B
eing a participant in this world can provide faster ways to communicate with those far from us, inform us of happenings across the globe, provide us with a library full of information and much, much more. But this real-time access to people, products and information brings with it some possible bumps in the road.
As with any new path in life, there are many amazing and wonderful gems, and there are also dangers. Two of the pitfalls of this digital world are 1) being “always on” and, 2) accessing incorrect or propagandized information. First, let’s examine being on all the time. It has become an issue in classrooms, business meetings and even the dinner table. People are absorbed in their devices instead of focusing on the people and activities they are involved with. Reingold studied this aspect of digital life and wrote,
“The attention shift that has been taking place among students for some time now is propagating far beyond the campuses: all people and media are available all the time, and in all places, but relatively few people appear to use ubiquitous informational access and social connectivity politely and productively” (p. 36).
So, as people are connected to social media on their devices, they are disconnected to what is going on around them. This leads to another problem – multitasking. Many studies have been done on multitasking, and the majority of psychologists agree that it doesn’t really work. Our brains can only truly focus on one thing at a time. So, if a student in a classroom is bouncing back and forth from Facebook to email to what’s going on in the classroom, they are most likely not fully engaged in any one of those things. There are even studies that suggest this is unhealthy for our brains and well-being. Reingold writes,
“Continuous partial attention can hamper opportunities for reflection and authentic social connection as well as threaten personal health and well-being” (p. 58).
Another pitfall to consider is the fact that we can’t trust everything we read on the internet. Because there is such a plethora of information out there and anyone can add to it regardless of their credentials, some of it is inaccurate, misleading or comes from sources we don’t realize.
The good news is that there are some ways in which we can keep our feet as we walk on this road. First, we can practice mindfulness. We can choose to be aware of our own tendencies to multitask. We can choose to not text and drive, choose to turn devices off at the dinner table or at meetings, and choose to fully engage with the people around us. There are also some simple ways to make sure the information we’re accessing is true and from credible sources. Here are some of those ways:
- think skeptically
- look for an author and check their claims to authority on the subject
- check the author’s sources
- see what others are saying about the author
- Review sites and see if anything doesn’t seem authentic about them
- Remember that some of the information on the internet is crowdsourced. It doesn’t come from one source that is easy to find. So be sure to investigate all sources. In her book Superconnected, Mary Chayko wrote,
“This sharing economy has complicated copyright matters. Lots of information on the internet and digital media is prosumed, crowdsourced, and remixed – created collaboratively by producers and consumers alike, sometimes in large batches” (p. 78).
This digital road we are traveling together is wonderful. It offers us amazing opportunities to connect, learn and grow. But, there are also stumbling stones, so we must take care to keep our feet.
Reingold, H. (2014). Net Smart: How to thrive online. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Chayko, M. (2018). Superconnected: The internet, digital media and technosocial life. SAGE: Los Angeles.
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