I ‘ve been reading a challenging new book, Virtually You – The Dangerous Power of the E-Personality, written by Elias Aboujaoude, MD from Stanford.  In this book he pulls on years of research the looks at how our online personalities (e-personalities) are shaping how we interact with the offline world.  While he recognizes the unlimited potential of the internet for good he has identified some very dangerous changes in how we relate to, communicate with, and behave in the real world.  He identifies correlations between how we act and interact on the internet and how that in turn shapes us in non-screenworld.  I think this is a must read for anyone living in the technological age.

I have long wondered how the advent of instant, social, and mobile technology impacts our real world lives and here’s just a few things I’m thinking about in no particular order:

LinkedIn – Everyone I connect with is just a means to an end.  Every connection I make is meant to be a networking opportunity, on this site.  But when I become conditioned to see others through a “what can you do for me” lens this has the potential to negatively impact my real time relationships in the same way.

iProducts – With such a focus on individualization in how we experience our technology we can further reinforce this self-centered worldview that we fight so hard to diminish.  With apps on every interface I can make everything I use completely customized to my preferences.  It is precisely this behavior that sabotages our real time relationships.  Everything is about me and every encounter we have with others should be about reinforcing the idea that I am the center of the universe.  iAM.

Also, we can not only add apps that we want we can filter out anything we don’t want or that we don’t like.  I love Facebook’s content filters on my wall so I can hide or delete content from my “friends” that I don’t agree with, that is embarrassing to me, or I just flat out disagree with.  The ability to do this seriously retards our ability to tolerate anything that doesn’t conform to my ideology and beliefs.  I never have to be challenged or held accountable for anything online because I can just unfriend you or hide you news feed.  This also conditions us in real time to be intolerant to those who are different than us and does not lend itself to diversity.

I’m not even going to spend much time on the subject of instant gratification.  This should be a no-brainer.  If it’s not just Google it.

I’ve noticed that people tend to say things online that they would NEVER say in real life.  It’s like we can hide behind the wall of technology and convince ourselves that this isn’t real because I can’t see the other person.  Or, I am not even really being myself online so nobody knows it’s even me.  We tend to be more snarky, pretentious, and just downright mean.  When we spend inordinate amounts of time interacting behind a façade online we soon forget how to interact with people in real time and adopt many of our online behaviors as the new norm.

One last thing I’d like to mention is how disposable the internet makes things (i.e., relationships, apps, websites, etc.).  If this displeases us I will just move on to the next one.  We have been conditioned to not be content.  If a “friend” says something you don’t like, DELETE!  If you beat that game, DELETE!  If you are tired of Facebook, Google+.  There is always another option.  We are all free agents.  Loyalty is hard to come by on the web.  Can you see how dangerous this can be in real time?  Do we treat others the same way?

As we spend increasing amounts of time “connected” online we must know that it can, will, and is shaping how we interact with the real world around us, and not always for the better.  There are assuredly other ways technology is impacting us (i.e., shorted attention spans, impulsive shopping, compulsive gambling, shaping our sexual experiences and lives, etc.).  As we work with kids who have never know a world without mobile phones or the internet we must be increasingly aware of our own online behaviors and seek to bring the two world together as much as possible in a healthy and balanced manner.

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