Keep Your Feet

“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.”

J.R.R. Tolkien

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.

Common Pitfalls

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.

Practice Mindfulness

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:

  1.  think skeptically
  2.  look for an author and check their claims to authority on the subject
  3.  check the author’s sources
  4.  see what others are saying about the author
  5.  Review sites and see if anything doesn’t seem authentic about them
  6. 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,
  7. “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.


Posted on October 7, 2018, in Social Media. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. For every advance we’ve made as humans, there has to be a cost. It’s comforting to know that people were frightened by the changes in society that would be wrought by technology like the telephone, the radio, and the television. In many ways, these advances brought us closer, and we can hope that this digital world will, too. For instance, I’m overjoyed that I now have the ability to FaceTime with my brother’s triplets since they live across the country can change so much in the six months between my visits.

    The issue of “screen time” has become bigger in my household, and at times, I’ve been guilty of having three screens in front of me: Netflix in the background, my laptop on my lap, and my cell phone by my side. Then my cat comes to nudge my hand, and I realize that I’m embarrassingly immersed in everything and nothing at the same time. Sometimes I force myself to watch those videos of both pets and kids being ignored by screen-loving parents, and I remember how it feels to be on the receiving end of that inattention. Having that screen in hand has become so reflexive, though. I wonder at what point we’ll stop needing to endlessly scroll?

  2. I love the synthesis of Rheingold and Chayko here! See also this report on misinformation online:

  3. Lisa,

    Great analysis of our readings this week. I was intrigued by this quote, “relatively few people appear to use ubiquitous informational access and social connectivity politely and productively.” This quote made me realize that we commonly ignore social niceties of using technology and social connectivity in public. We are more mindful of not cursing in certain places than using technology in certain places, which if kind-of interesting. When we scroll on the Internet or use our phones in class, we don’t feel like we’re violating as big of a rule.

    On proganized information, Reingold made a comment that he feared news and information would become more un-trustworthy. He originally published this book in 2012 – way before “Fake News” became a buzzword that everyone uses now. While it easy to see it coming, I wonder if he knew that un-trustworthy information would hit this hard and as quickly as it did. It doesn’t matter who publishes what now – everything is called Fake News and people just stick to new sources that shout the beliefs that they believe. It’d be interesting to hear Reingold’s thoughts on the subject now.

  4. I do think it is becoming increasingly more difficult to sift through the information the media gives us and make sense of it. I have flipped the channel across major news networks and found very different and seemingly believable opinions of the same issue. So, I think we need to be vigilant and teach our children to not just take one channel as the sole source of truth. Reingold suggests making sure the things we learn online have at least 3 sources that back them up. He lists several other ways we can use to make sure the information we are hearing is accurate.

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