Ask yourself. How?

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I love the idea of New Years Day.  I whole-heartedly dive in to the “new year, new me” mentality, despite what some experts may say about it. It is a time for deep self reflection and an opportunity for continued self-improvement. And boy do I love me some good ol’ self improvement. I thrive, not on self-flagellation, but on the concept that we live in an amazing era and can always work to improve ourselves. I know I won’t reach perfection, but I feel the need to strive for it.

As a father, husband, and educator, one area that I’ve grown increasingly concerned with is my time spent mindlessly using technology. I scroll social media, constantly search for and read too many articles, and I check email at all sorts of hours. As 2017 came to a close, I started to take issue with my smartphone and what it is was doing to me. I’ve become upset with the designers of our technology, luring us in and hooking our attention with proven psychological techniques that deprive me of the time that I’m always chasing down week after week.

As I struggled to keep my eyes open, watching Mariah search the stage unsuccessfully for her cup of tea, surrounded by millions of semi-frozen people waiting for the ball to drop, a commercial for Google played. It was a 2 minute spot that successfully tugged at my heartstrings through savvy use of images and music, and it presented the most asked question of the year 2017: How?

Take a look below:

Pretty good right?

For starters, despite the many atrocities of 2017, there is immense hope portrayed in this commercial. In the face of tragedy, people show incredible compassion.  Progress has been made in so many areas of life. So many family and friends are incredibly stressed by the world right now. It is easy to think that everything is on the decline and only getting worse. Step up on Mr. Keating’s desk, however, and your perspective may shift.  We are bombarded daily, with all that is wrong with the world that we forget to look for what is right and what we have to look forward to. We, collectively, have started to become guilty of historical nostalgia, longing for the days of old, when smartphones didn’t exist and nothing bad ever happened, ever. Some even think everything back then was “great”. I’m as guilty as the next person. I long to run out into the woods and unplug, despite nearly breaking out into hives every time I lose my cell signal. I talk about video rental stores like they were better than Disney World, forgetting the fights that ensued over which tape to rent and the massive time commitment they took.

Maybe the problem with how we look at our technology is the same problem we have with our view of New Years resolutions.  We fear hard work, we are always looking for a magic pill to take away our suffering or an easy scapegoat to explain away our behavior.  The shortest workout. The cheapest gadget. The next great app. The cell phone that will revolutionize your life. The book that, once read, will change your habits. None of it matters if you never take stock of your own emotional, mental and psychological well-being and face the fact that: We. Are. Weak. To be human is to be massively flawed and yet to still have the potential to improve and strive for perfection through learning over time. 

I take incredible issue with the attention economy and the metrics that social media and cell phone manufacturers use to gauge their success.  I do not think it is for the betterment of human kind. I want designers who respect my time and want to help me become a better version of me.  I believe that is possible.  BUT.  In the meantime, that process is completely and totally up to me. I can’t blame the cell phone. I can’t blame Facebook.  I can only change my own behaviors around these products through education and I can hope to model that behavior for those around me.

What the Google ad reminded me was to ask myself: HOW am I using technology? How is this making my and my families life better? How is this good for humanity? Am I using it to better myself and the world around me? Or am I using it to escape reality and lose precious time with my wife and kids? If you have thought about this I recommend a few steps:

  1.  Awareness – Check out the links within this article. Tristan Harris and Nir Eyal are doing excellent work advocating for a more ethical system that can help people rather than rob their attention. Cal Newport is the productivity guru that you never knew you needed.
  2. Define why you are using social media – and what benefit it has for you.  For me, I enjoy the accountability that facebook can provide for my fitness goals and I enjoy keeping up with friends and family.  I love using Twitter to discuss issues with my PLN.  I officially obtained my old man card and gave up trying to use Snapchat.
  3. Track how much time you use on your phone.  Try the free version of Moment  and see if you are comfortable with spending an hour plus of your day on social media.
  4. Delete apps, not accounts – Apps are convenient and easy to use.  I deleted the Facebook app from my phone and it drastically reduced the amount of time I spent on it, for the better. I now use it from my browser and I am working on only using it from a computer.
  5. Turn off notifications. A notification could be more accurately named an “interruption” and we all have too many of them in a day. This tip alone could completely reshape how you use your phone.

Finally, as a priest from my prep school told me when I was 16, “Don’t be so hard on yourself!”. We humans are allowed to distract ourselves occasionally. We are working hard every day and some time wasting is not only inevitable, but necessary.  Don’t beat yourself up if you or your kids are looking at screens for a good portion of the day. If you are feeling guilty and looking to make a resolution in 2018, though, start with some “How?” questions, throw away your rose colored glasses, and remember that things are pretty great right here and now.

 

The First Annual #Digcit Summit

IMG_4419The threat of a hurricane on top of end of the week rush hour traffic through New York made for a stressful (and long… so long) trip from South Jersey up to Hartford, Connecticut this past Friday.  After decompressing from the entire trip, I must say that every minute of the long ride was worth it and then some.  The first Digital Citizenship Summit, hosted by Marialice Curran (@Mbfxc) and David Polgar (@techethicist) was a one of a kind get together and a necessary call to action to the 200+ attendees.  Having attended a lot of conferences over the past year, I can say confidently that this one was really unique and that it affected me deeply.

It’s always intimidating going to a conference alone.  I walked into the building greeted with a bear hug from Marialice.  This woman rocks.  As seems to happen often lately, I ran into an awesome Twitter contact, Rob Pennington (@Robpennington9) and we hung out throughout the day, commiserating with each other over how addicted we are to our own devices and how the sessions challenged our beliefs and habits.  Before even sitting down for the opening, Rob introduced me to Edu-Rock Stars Sue Bearden (@s_bearden), Matt Soeth (@MatthewSoeth) and Kerry Gallagher (@kerryhawk02).  I feel like I say this all the time; it never ceases to amaze me how friendly and open the people in Ed Tech are.

The opening by David and Marialice was a true call to action.  “It’s not enough to just like an article online, we have to DO something about Digital Citizenship” said David in what was a humorous opening to the day.  Marialice, sporting the awesome T-shirt “Be the Digital Change” echoed these thoughts in her energetic and emotional opening as she stated that DigCit can no longer be an “add-on” to the curriculum.  By infusing digital citizenship into schools and homes, we are teaching the next generation how to make the right choices and how to empathize with others.

The panel discussion was such a great way to kick off the day’s discussion.  Moderated by Sue Bearden, Dr. Mike Ribble, the godfather himself (@digcitizen), Denise Lisi Derosa (@DeniseLDeRosa), Dr. Shelley Prevost (@ShelleyPrevost) and Reuben Loewy (@LivingOnlineLab) engaged in a very rich conversation about what digital citizenship means to them, where we have been and where we need to go in order to live more intentionally and utilize our technology in the most responsible and ethical ways.  I Periscoped the majority of the panel and you can view it from my Katch.

When I looked at the first session offerings, I had to choose between a session I thought would benefit the students of my school and a session I thought I needed for myself (desperately in all honesty).  I choose to invest in “me” and went to see Janell B. Hoffman’s session “The Slow Tech Lifestyle: Integrating Digital Mindfulness Into Your Personal & Professional Lives”.  Wow. I was blown away.  I had read Janell’s contract with her son a while back and was intrigued, but I wasn’t ready for the message yet.  Now that my son is almost 10 years old and I am constantly glued to my own phone… I need a little wake up call.  While the issue is really that of health and common sense, it needs the right spokesperson who understands that this is not a black and white issue.  Some people decry cell phones as evil and insist that they will live “off the grid” while others insist that eye contact is old fashioned and that this is the “new normal”.  There is a happy medium, but it can only be done with intention and mindfulness, which is exactly what Janell is preaching.  Our phones and technology enhance our lives, our conversations and our connections a great deal.  But we need to make it work for us, not the other way around.  I ordered Janell’s book, iRules, immediately and can’t wait to read it.

After a trip up to the college dining hall that gave me flashbacks of my freshman 15, I was lucky to get the chance to eat with Rob, Kerry and Sarah Thomas.  I can’t state enough how awesome these people are.  The poster sessions followed and I was able to speak to USJ Freshman, Victoria Maringola (@vmaringola) about her anti-bullying project, H.O.P.E.  She had a really great idea for students to report bullying in an online secure location.  She also visits schools and talks about her personal experience with bullying which is exactly what kids need to hear.  Bravo Victoria!

Post lunch sessions started with Kerry Gallagher, speaking about infusing digital citizenship into the curriculum.  I was really excited to finally see Kerry present after following her on Twitter and reading several of her articles.  She did a fantastic job modeling techniques that we can all use when giving a PD session, including questions on Socrative and getting us up and moving to scan QR codes.  All of this while facing some tech difficulties and managing a room of overflowing people.  I really connected with her honest dialogue about her role as a non-administrator (We don’t want to collect things from you!) that is trying to help teachers.  She provided some great examples of digital citizenship completed by various subject area teachers.  Her slides are provided at the link at the bottom of this post.  Kerry was recently appointed the director of k-12 education for Connect Safely, a nonprofit in CA that is “dedicated to educating users of connected technology about safety, privacy and security.”  They are a great resource for educators, parents and students alike and they are very lucky to have Kerry on their team.

The next session continued the trend of unique information as Sarah Thomas (@Sarahdateechur) presented, “Protect Yourself, Fool!”.  I think I’ve run into Sarah at every conference I have ever been to – I don’t know how she does it, but she is everywhere! Despite this I had never had the fortune of seeing her present.  She talked about various nefarious schemes that people are using to try to steal our information, money or identity.  Wifi sniffing, skimmers, spoofcards and drones, oh my! There is some scary stuff going on out there and it was great to go over this information.  Sarah finished with a demo of her cool little drone and enforced the message that it’s important to protect yourself, but that not all technology is being used for harmful purposes.

The final session of the day was led by Jennifer Scheffer (@JLscheffer) and Timmy Sullivan (@TimmyS54).  While I knew of Jennifer and her awesome student run help desk at her school in Burlington, MA, I kept hearing through the day, “You have to come see Timmy!”.  Timmy is a high school senior (Yes… He was presenting at  a national conference! But only after finishing his SAT subject tests that morning!).  They did an awesome job at closing the conference with a message of real world technology use and the importance of digital maturity.  Timmy doesn’t have an immaculate digital record (You can ask him yourself about his original Twitter handle) but he has grown up and learned how to use the tools that will help him succeed.  He wouldn’t have learned in a school that blocks social media.  He wouldn’t have improved if he was told to be afraid of ever posting the wrong thing online.  He had great role models and he was allowed to fail on his own before discovering the best way to present himself online.

If you’ve stuck with me this long, you can probably tell what an impact the conference had on me.  As often happens at conferences, some of the best parts are the conversations and new contacts.  I was lucky to be able to hang with all of the organizers and many presenters throughout the afternoon and evening and continue all our great conversations.  Thanks so much to Marialice and David for organizing such a great event and for being such incredible hosts.  Thanks to all the incredible people I got to spend time with and chat about all things digcit.  I will look forward to connecting again in the future.  In the meantime, I’ll be working on my iRules contract for myself and my son.  Change starts with yourself!

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Link to Summit page and Resources: http://digcitsummit.com/

Happiness is a choice. So is social media.

For those of you who know me, you are acutely aware how much I have recently started sharing my thoughts on teaching, ed-tech, positivity and life in general through social media.  I started a blog called Tech Tuesdays to share tips with my colleagues.  I cleaned up my twitter account and started suggesting official school hashtags.  I’m now active on Google Plus (Yes that’s still a thing) and I have decided I need to massively upgrade my blog.  On top of that I still have a personal Facebook page that I use to connect with friends and family.  Here is where many of you loyal readers (all 3 of you!) will start to ask…

WHY???

And not just why do all of this to begin with, But why would I spend so much TIME doing this (I know some of you are thinking it – WASTING my time doing this).  It’s a valid question.  We all need balance in life (a blog post for the future).  Let me discuss two recent social media news items:

1.  Recently Twitter trended the hashtag #Describetwitterin3words.  The responses varied from the super positive to the super negative and everything in between.  You can check it out yourself

2.  The interim CEO of Reddit just resigned and, story aside, one of her quotes really struck me: “In my eight months as Reddit’s CEO, I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly on Reddit, The good has been off-the-wall inspiring, and the ugly made me doubt humanity.”

Why point out these stories? Because there is tons and tons (and tons) of mundane crap on the internet.  Worse yet, there is a lot that’s downright horrible.  This, my friends, is called humanity.

You can’t pick your family or your coworkers.  You are stuck with them for better or for worse.  You CAN pick who you interact with online.  There’s also no obligation – pick it up when you want.

making-choices-picture

I’ve heard so many people tell me that they just don’t get it.  They just don’t understand the appeal of going online and reading about people, “Doing their laundry” or “Brushing their teeth”… Why is it they always cite household chores??

Here’s the deal – there’s a massive stereotype about social media.  It’s for teens.  It’s self-indulgent and narcissistic.  It’s encouraging kids to be bullies.  It’s a government conspiracy to track all of us and sell us more crap…. on and on.

Now, there’s an ounce of truth to some of those.  Here’s the paradox I can’t get over.  If those ideas bother you then you should do something about it! Choose to use social media to connect with other educators.  Choose to use social media to teach your students.  Choose to use social media to spread positive vibes and model decent digital citizenship for the next generation.  It is NOT all stupid human tricks and funny dog videos (but hey, that’s fun too).  Do you like to write? Start blogging.  Twitter CAN be a form of writing.  There are tons of naysayers, but you are telling a story when you post online.  We desperately need quality passionate people to add to the digital world.  Moreover, your kids will be on there whether you like it or not.  Wouldn’t you rather have a firsthand understanding of the best way to utilize this tool so that you can teach the next generation? Don’t sit back and complain about the negative impact social media is having on society.  As educators we not only have the opportunity to impact change in this area but I believe we have a moral obligation to do so.

I’m a big believer that you have a choice in all things.  You have a choice to be happy.  It’s not a state that you arrive at.  You have a choice to complain or to be positive.  You have a choice to use social media for good.

My favorite T-shirt

                  My favorite T-shirt

Here’s the rub – most of you reading this already know this.  So I’m issuing a challenge to you:

Make it a goal this coming year to get 1 unconnected educator online.  Don’t worry when people sarcastically ask if you are going to tweet from the meeting you are in (because you probably are).  Flood the online world with so much positivity that the next generation won’t tolerate the bullies, the flamers and the trolls.  You have a choice.