So close yet so far away…

As an undergraduate engineering student, they constantly prided themselves on the amount of group work that we would engage in and how integrated technology was into the curriculum. It was for good reason because it was as advertised. The collaborative atmosphere was fostered from day one with at least 2 courses per semester requiring teamwork of some form and, starting with our freshman classes laptops were mandatory every day. By my senior year, tablet PCs were required and integrated into the classroom assignments as well; an unprecedented move in the years before iPads were ubiquitous.

“Commandment 11: thou shalt not Facebook during class!”

Years down the road, I find myself thankful for the forced interaction with both those who approached social interaction with ease and finesse as well as those who preferred solitude.  Adopting the latest technology, albeit by force, made us recognize both the importance of and the massive potential of being an early adopter of what would eventually become mainstream technologies. These have been important lessons that have helped me wear the many hats that I’ve worn in my life.

Fast forward 10 years to the high school and college students of now and what has changed? Companies and organizations still need people who can work on multiple teams simultaneously, deal with different (and sometimes difficult) personalities with ease, and can adopt new technologies and minimize costly learning curve times in the work place.

Ironically however, these two seemingly unrelated points of pride for universities have now converged as new technologies are being used to foster collaboration between students across a classroom table as well as across the globe. But the question we need to ask before hurriedly jumping on the speeding bullet train of progress is: Are we leaving anything behind on the platform?

Throughout the years I’ve had the now defunct Hotmail, AIM, and Myspace; and currently have Facebook, Skype, Vine, Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, YikYak, Kik, Venmo, and so on. I think part of my education encouraging early adoption of technology has kept me from fearing the advent of new technology and seeing its potential, even in a classroom setting. For better or for worse, these technologies have created a place for people to express themselves, their opinions and views in an unprecedented manner.

How my students see me when they notice me checking my Snapchat before class:

It also has connected the world and created a global community, including a community of learners. However great the potential of the internet, I am still cautious and I understand the importance a birthday phone call in lieu of a Facebook like,  stopping by someone’s office instead of sending and email and awaiting a reply, or a video chat discussion of a book as opposed to an email chain where  perhaps some nuances are lost in the inflections in our voices and body language.

I suppose the major challenge going forward for educators seeking to make a more well rounded in and out of class room experience by integrating technology will be just how much is too much, and at what point will the companies and organizations that we send our graduates to start sending the students back for ‘personality and interaction’ training, because although they may be able to make “friends” and generate “likes” online, we all still need to get along IRL.


  1. What a though-provoking and well-written post. There is something to be said for in-person contact, but that does not mean there is lost value in virtual communication. As citizens of the 21st century, especially the younger generations, so much of our interactions are done virtually. Does this hurt, or enable us?

  2. Thanks!
    To answer you question, while I don’t think that all forms of online communication are bad, I do believe having all of our interactions be exclusively online can be. I think there is merit and value in interpersonal communication skills and currently, those who can transcend both realms easily end up being most successful.

  3. Thank you for your post! It is nice to see that technology had such a big impact on your program of study. I agree with your reply here that there is a fine balance that can be reached between not enough and too much reliance on technology. The internet can keep people connected, especially over long distances. However, being a counselor, I find my own bias to be towards face to face interaction. I don’t remember the exact percent, but an enormous part of communication is nonverbal. That can somewhat be captured with the sleek use of semicolons and parentheses 😉 but it is still not the same. I agree with you that a phone call or personal interaction on my birthday is more meaningful than a Facebook comment. Not that I don’t appreciate the messages on Facebook, but there are differences between quantity and quality. Finding that balance can make the classroom environment (as well as life environment) more rich of an experience.

    1. It’s my pleasure Alex. I almost always use emojis and emotive shorthand phrases (LOL, ::rolls eyes::, etc.) in online conversations and emails because I know how limited the range can be.
      As for the quantity vs. quality, I sometimes catch myself falling into the trap of judging the quality of relationships based on how often the more personal interactions occur, especially in long distance friendship.
      I guess the question now is, does this emphasis on the IRL and personal touch pass down to the next gen. or are they more blaze about it, in a world where, in a bid to generate sales it’s so oversaturated that even your barista knows your name and order like a regular if you use your Starbucks card.

  4. My initial reaction to your blog post was , “yes!” I have very similar feelings about the interactivity we see all over the “world wide web.” I fear that though the Internet has provided us with an abundance of outlets for communicating with one another, we are missing out on that face to face interaction. There are tons of ways to communicate without using words and I feel as though the Internet will never truly be able to show that. Of course, new things arise all the time like “reactions” on Facebook, but there are far too many ways to communicate without words and emojis. If students rely solely on platforms like Google Drive, how will they perform in a team environment when their jobs demands that of them?

    1. Thanks for reading!
      To prove this same sort of point, I once misquoted a Drake song where he impassionately sings:
      “We live in a generation of,
      not being alone,
      and not being together,
      but we sure make it feel like we’re together”
      Apparently, he was talking about relationships where there is no defined commitment to each other, but also the desire for exclusivity.
      However, I understood it to be a concise way to explain the phenomenon we’re experiencing now, where lots of people are connected digitally, interacting almost daily, but aren’t exactly friends per se. I’ve had people whom I’ve felt very close to but have only interacted with IRL once or twice, though we lived minutes apart. To quote Drake again the “What are we?” issue is a complex one that certainly crosses over into the educational realm because the coming generations are being raised and educated with these being their cultural norms and we as educators can use them to our advantage.

  5. I too, have all the same social media platforms as you, maybe even a few more. I do appreciate the connectedness that social media plays in my both my personal and professional life, but there are times I wish they never existed. I’m guilty to say that I can’t get through a class assignment without glancing briefly at my social media pages or having to spend countless hours procrastinating on Facebook before I actually begin to do my work. I feel like when I was growing up, social media and the internet as a whole was very new. As a result, I was pretty productive when it came to completing school work and household chores because what else was I was going to do? Social media is definitely a blessing and a curse…the irony!

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