jleMcLuhan and Twitter via John Dyer
This is a post I have had in the making for a while, but when I read John Dyer’s post Tools for Tech Thinking: McLuhan on Twitter, and well, he unknowingly gave me some inspiration to post some of my thoughts on this issue.

Read John’s post for some context, but essentially Marshall McLuhan in his seminal work The Medium is the Message poses four questions about media/technology:

  1. What does it (the medium or technology extend)?
  2. What does it make obsolete?
  3. What is retrieved?
  4. “What does the technology reverse into if it is over-extended?

John does a great job of summarizing what these four things are, but for this post I’m concerned about question four, “What does the technology reverse into if it is over-extended?” John explicates the question in this way:

What does Twitter reverse into if it is over-extended?

This is McLuhan’s “negative” question where he gives examples like the ability to project one’s voice is lost if the microphone is overused and the ability to walk long distances is lost when one relies on vehicles.

  • Twitter can connect physically distant individuals, but when overused it can also isolate a person from those who are physically near (like spouses) reversing into a state of more disconnectedness.
  • Twitter can also reverse into a level of shallowness, because communication is limited to 140 characters.
  • Twitter can also reverse into a mess of noise and distraction since so many voices are speaking  at the same time.

Technology and Affirmation
Most of us may not realize it, but technology is often a major source of affirmation for us in our lives. John is speaking of Twitter, but Twitter is not the only culprit. Name it: Facebook, blogs, mommy forums, fantasy leagues, chat, MySpace, email, Blackberry’s i-Phones, etc, etc.

We go to these sites and belong to these online communities because in some shape, form or fashion we are affirmed in them. People accept us, care for us, are there for us. It soon becomes an instant source of affirmation.

I get it. For every negative comment on my blog there are lots of others telling me what a great post it was, or thank you for talking about that subject. Or I hop on Facebook and reminisce with friends about the old days from high school and college and what good times we had. Or I hop on Twitter and decide at the last minute to meet up with someone for coffee.

Affirmation, affirmation, affirmation……

So What Happens to our Marriages and Families
It probably goes without saying that one of the places that we feel the most love and affirmation is at home with our spouses and children. And it also goes without saying that that is often where we can feel the most unloved, criticized and no where close to affirmed. That is part of the human condition. That is part of the journey of being in relationship. Marriage and family is tough sometimes.

Where Marriage and family is tough, technology is often not. When marriage and family is not there to affirm and love, Facebook, Twitter, chat forums and our blogs are.

Though I believe Facebook and Twitter and blog communities…are true communities…sometimes they are lacking one of the essential aspects of the “flesh and bone” community that so many of us want, and which is the aspect that often makes community tough, but also so rewarding.

It Goes Something Like This
I may not be getting along with my wife for example, so I will hop on Twitter, because everyone on there seems to love me. And let’s be honest, we often put on our best faces online, where our family sees us for who we really are.

So since I get affirmation from Twitter I will turn to it more often and more quickly, while in the process, very slowly, and sometimes quickly neglecting those I share a home with and with whom I’m in some of the deepest forms of community I can be in.

So pretty soon I’m just not spending time online at the neglect of my spouse, kids and family, I’m also making plans to hang out with those I meet online (Twitter friends, blogging buddies, Facebook groups, etc.) at the expense of my family.

You see the routine, or the dance as I like to call it.

Affirmation, love and care in marriage and family is not always easy and not always present.

Affirmation, “love” and “care” in online community is pretty easy and often present…online at least.

Hmmmm. Where will my time and attention naturally drift to?  When things aren’t going well at home, do you head to/drift online?

This is where technology (IN MY OPINION) is over extended and can often bring harm to our families if we are not careful…if we do not set up healthy boundaries…if we seek out the easy fix in technology than the more difficult and rewarding ones of our immediate relationships.

And it’s a vicious cycle that keeps repeating itself unless something is done to change it.  Because the more and more affirmed you are online, the more likely you are to spend time there, and the worse things will get at home…which is why you may have went there in the first place, or is what led to the problems.

Examining Yourself

  1. How much time do you spend online? Do you spend equal or more time offline with your family?
  2. Do you notice that you are quick to go online when things aren’t going well at home, whether in your marriage or with your kids?
  3. Do you intentionally seek out affirmation from others by what you say online?
  4. Have you formed unhealthy relationships with others you have met or know online?

Get Help
If you have answered yes to any of these questions (and we probably are all guilty at some level) then it’s time to have a serious conversation with your family (spouse, children, etc.) about what is going on and what things can be changed.

For example:

  1. Parameters/boundaries can be set-up regarding how much time you spend online.
  2. Consider taking days off from being online.
  3. Share your online passwords with your spouse so that their is open communication and accountability.
  4. Ask your spouse if they feel neglected when you are online or with how much time you spend online?
  5. Ask your children if they think you are online too much?
  6. Form online accountability partners who can help monitor your time and behavior and help you maintain a healthy sense of integrity online, in your marriage and with your family.
  7. Talk with your spouse regarding what things have gotten in the way of your marriage and have you going online first, rather than to them.

These are just a few suggestions.  What do you suggest?

Disclaimer: This blog post is not to be a substitute for professional help or advice. Please consider seeking out professional help if you consider yourself to be at risk for depression.