The misadventures of a first time father

Tag Archives: cyber-bullying

I’ve been feeling pretty nostalgic as of late.

I’m not sure if it’s the changing colors of the Fall leaves here in the Northeast, which always make me think of the many returns ‘back to school’ for almost two decades, or sitting outside the cafe in college with my portable CD player and headphones providing ample musical accompaniment as I’d write. Maybe it’s helping my parents pack up and move out of the house we were a family in from the age of 13 onward. Or maybe it’s watching the only sitcom these days that I tune into each week, The Goldbergs, which washes over me like a wave of reminiscences to my youth in a ‘1980 something’ blur.

Either way, there’s been something about the past. Something about how life used to be. Something that, in the words of Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon on 30 Rock – ‘I want to go to there.’

Watching my son walking talking, counting, and just becoming a little person all his own, with his own ideas, decisions, and views, even at two, has made me think more and more about the world he is going to grow up into. Most of all, I think about just how different that world is from the one I look back so fondly on.

couple-on-phonesWe went to lunch as a family not too long ago and were talking when my wife nudged her head slightly to the table next to us. I glanced over, where I saw a young couple who had come in just before us. They were seated at the table, ready for a meal, like anyone else in a restaurant would be, but instead of talking to each other, both had their heads down, glued to the phones in their hands.

I sighed.

Yeah. I know. I’m already three steps into ‘Hey you kids! Get off my lawn!” territory, but I can’t help but feel a longing for a time that, despite the melodramas that (let’s face it) we created ourselves in our youth, was much simpler. Workplace tasks didn’t include making sure Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, yadda, yadda, yadda, were updated constantly.

A time when asking someone out on a date meant walking up to them and doing so in person or building up the nerve to pick up the phone and hope that a parent didn’t answer first. Now it’s a text, a Facebook message, a tweet. A ‘wanna hang out?’ There is something…lacking in it all.

Yes, yes. I realize that in many ways the Internet and Social Media have opened up the world to so many. Heck, would these thoughts running through my head have anywhere to go other than to my friends over a beer if it wasn’t for the power of the world wide webs?

nice-neighborhoodThere was once a time when the worst you had to worry about when doing something foolish was a friend taking a picture that they’d show your friends. Now, that picture can be seen by the world in a matter of seconds, with no way to take it back.

Bullies may have caused trouble at school or on the bus, but you could go home and take a break from it, regroup, feel you were safe. Today, computers, the internet and phones bring the bullying right there into the living room or bedroom of the child, giving them no break, no moment to gather thoughts – a constant bombardment of assault that would drive even the strongest adult to question their own sanity at times, I’m sure.

Sigh.

And this is the world my little boy is growing up in. How could I possibly be prepared for it?

I was blessed to have a family unit with caring parents and a great younger brother. I went to a high school that was so close-knit (don’t get me wrong. there were issues here and there. there always is with teens.) that when I wax nostalgic about it, my wife has often asked me if I went to school in a time warp or the 1950s.

I was very lucky and I want him to be too.

And yet, I can’t help but be fearful of the changing world we live in when I look back on the carefree days of riding my bike to the little league field, of walking to school or to the public pool, or being able to walk at night in my neighborhood to a friend’s house around the corner or just blocks away without worry for me or my parents.

They were wonderful times and I will treasure them always.

social_mediaWhen I was in college, I wrote a paper about what was then, the ‘height’ of social media in that pre-myspace, pre-friendster, pre-facebook days – AOL Instant Messenger. My theory was that through the use of technology like Instant Messenger, we as a civilization were becoming less human. We were losing our humanity in the way we communicate.

If I had only known what was coming down the pipe in terms of ‘social media’ back then.

But, here we are. All sharing this world – a world made ever smaller by our ability to connect with someone halfway across it in a matter of seconds. Many of us still finding our way.

What kind of people will we be?

Whatever we choose will automatically play a role in who our children choose to be.

I can’t control the world around me and I know that. And that world around me is going to continue to grow with things I’ll never understand and yet, gets smaller by the day as technology grows. How it’s used, how it’s reacted to, that’s all up to the people behind it.

That would be us. And our children. And their children.

I can’t put my son in a bubble or create a world for him without the risks, the fears, and the distractions that come with technology, the internet and social media that have made me look back so much on my own youth as ‘so much simpler.’

But I can make sure the phones are put away at dinner time, or family time, or storytime, or that we make sure we get outside, go for walks, or just enjoy the world that we’ve been given. I can get on the ground and play with toys with him instead of turning on the television.

I can teach him that while there is vast, powerful technology in this world that can either bring us together or rip us apart, it is no match for the imagination of oneself or the true community of family and friends that are found simply reaching out a real hand, not a twitter handle.

I can show him how much this world, this earth, the world around us and everything in it that we walk by each day should be cherished and appreciated, less it fade away and disappear and become nothing more than an image on one of those magic screens.

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© Copyright 2011 CorbisCorporationI’ve been feeling the drain again when it comes to social media.

I’m not quite sure what it is….an overload, perhaps? Whatever it is, I just find myself borderline depressed at times thinking about how much time I spend on some social media platform like Facebook.

Posting updates of what I did today, a great new photo of the family or my son, writing about some fun film or documentary I just unearthed or learned about…then checking back in to see if anyone’s liked or commented on any of those…furiously going back when I get that little notification in the corner only to find it’s just someone else responding or commenting to something I’ve commented on.

It becomes a downright addiction, doesn’t it?

I take a step back and say to myself ‘what the heck am I doing?!’ This is time I could be out and about and doing something.

There’s a few other factors at work aside from the ‘time waster scenario.

Privacy Settings:

Facebook has, yet again, changed their privacy settings and made functions that used to be within a user’s control no longer available. When it came to my personal profile, I was pretty darn strict with who could find me, who could see my postings, etc, etc. That’s all gone now due to Facebook’s changes.

Now, the old settings are gone and whether I like it or not, people can search for and find me on there, leading to a number of friend requests from folks I’ve never laid eyes on sitting forever in my queue.

What’s really even more mind-boggling to me is that with these latest changes, if I ‘like’ or comment on one of my friends’ status’, people who I may be friends with who don’t even know that person or are connected to them, can now comment and like it as well. I just find that odd. These people have no connection whatsoever, and now I sometimes find myself getting apprehensive to ‘like’ or say anything, for fear of what random other online associates will chime in, even though they may have no idea who this other person is that they’re commenting to. It’s just, I don’t know, weird to me.

Then there are photos. I’ve loved sharing photos of good times, my family, etc, but now…I suddenly start thinking more and more about who is seeing those photos. It’s so easy for one friend to hit ‘share’ and that one photo of mine to go out to a world of people whom I don’t know in the least.

Knowing too much:

And, of course there’s just that general feeling of overload with what almost every single person I know is doing, thinking, liking, etc. When in the world did we become a culture that had to know every waking movement of each other and likewise, sharing every intimate detail of our lives?

I started thinking back to when I was a kid, a teenager, heck, even in college and just after graduation. There wasn’t a Facebook (there wasn’t even a MySpace), an Instagram or Twitter.

In a lot of ways, it felt like you lived your life, others lived theirs and the only way you heard about it is if you ran into them or had mutual friends in common. And you know what? Life was pretty good and happy.

Okay, maybe that’s a bit naive and believing ignorance is bliss.

But how many weird anxieties have people in this era gone through because social media fills them with a need to constantly be expressing how upset they are about their car, how boring their professor may be (why are you texting in class anyway, kid?), what you ate for lunch today, etc?!

Cyber-bullying:

Not to mention the harassment that comes with it for some. How many cases of online or cyber-bullying do we hear about in the news as of late? And when it happens, I can’t tell you how frustrated I get at the people who say things like ‘these kids need to toughen up.’ No. You know why? Because, despite what those people think, it’s NOT like it was back in our day or before. When I was growing up, if you had a bully or bullies beating down on you at school, you could go home, find refuge in your house or with your friends.

Today, that bully has such a farther reach than ever before that it was unheard of when I was growing up. The internet and social media is in our homes, in our hands. It. Is. Everywhere. And it’s kind of insane to me that people don’t see that. We could get away as kids/teens. We could regroup, breathe, and tough it out at home with a little down time. Today’s kids don’t get that luxury because it is everywhere they go. They are bombarded with it in school, out of school, in their own damn homes. And no child should have to go through that.

I can not imagine what it is like for these kids to live in this technological age and I honestly am a little fearful for what new fates/dangers/encroachments my son will have to deal with as he gets older.

I often times feel like the true test of parenting won’t be now. It will be when he grows up into a society that has long had the ever-reaching presence of the internet, of social media, of cell phones. The numerous methods and venues that give people the right to think they are absolutely right and the ability to tear apart another, no longer just to their face, to their peers, to their school, but to reach into their very own homes via this technology and create an inescapable prison, one from which so many young people find no escape.

It frightens me. What will he think? How will he handle it? How will I handle it?

All too much:

This stuff is everywhere and I’m just…exhausted by it.

I told my wife that I want to wean myself off of social media because of all this. I tried it, slowly, over the Thanksgiving holiday. When we were at home, my phone sat upstairs in our office while I enjoyed time with her and our little guy. We played, we watched old movies, we laughed, we hugged our cats. I read the newspaper and sipped a great cup of tea while music played on the radio and snow fell outside. I wasn’t posting a million pictures of snow to Facebook and Twitter so people could see that it snowed at our house. Who would care?!

I understand that certain things (the FB page for this blog, the FB page for my comic book, for example) will still require some usage of online and social media for promotion’s sake. Understood. But beyond that, it’s been nice to unplug, even if it was just partially. What a difference it made. We had a wonderful time that did not involve the internet or social media and I absolutely loved it.

To be honest, I felt like a human being again, like those younger, pre-social media days I mentioned.

Yes, I know. I get it. I’m on the internet, writing in a blog about how the internet is sometimes too much for me and can make me fearful for my son’s future. Don’t think that it’s lost on me. It isn’t.

It’s just that I think I have learned how easily we get sucked into this whole other world that’s really quite…artificial.

We start looking at other people’s lives (lives that are manufactured, mind you, as they are choosing exactly what they say, show you for their online presence) and start looking at ours, wondering why they may not be so great. We see the ‘wonderful’ things people are up to and start wondering if we’re missing out on something great instead of seeing how great our own lives are.

I don’t think it has to be that way.

I’m not saying ‘blow up the internet’ or ‘go live in the woods’ (although some days it sounds nice, doesn’t it?). What I’m saying is that I’ve found just how nice, satisfying and happy my life can be when I put the phone away, stop having Facebook open in a web browser tab, or just putting the phone down and out of sight when I come home from work and enjoying the real-life moments going on around me.

Sometimes it can feel like battling an addiction, I admit it, but I really feel like I’m a healthier person for it the more I practice it. It may take some more plugging away, but in time I think I can cut it down to a minimum exposure in my day.

It’s time to re-connect with myself, with my life, and in turn, with my family again. Not a group of people who are made up of people I may know in real life or may have never met. But my real-life, there by my side family.

I’m looking forward to the simplicity, the happiness again.



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