Friday, May 1, 2009

Should I Abandon Real Life for My Laptop?

As I began to start a new community website, I caught myself thinking I’d need to jettison real life commitments in order to maintain it. Then it hit me, I was actually thinking about quitting my volunteer work with other people to sit at my laptop.

In the last week I’d volunteered at our elementary school festival and field day then participated in a cub scout service project. Between my family, work, church and a city commission, my days are booked. Something would have to give.

Should we really reduce our real life community time in order to have one online?

When I confided my dilemma to a friend, he told me about his six years maintaining a national website for train enthusiasts. After a while, the site took up so much time that he realized he wasn’t fixing trains anymore. All he wanted was to grab tools and scrap paint to repair old engines in the museum, but he’d spend his weekends on the website. He stopped.

For people who don’t have volunteer or community activities, online groups and interactions provide a sense of community. Anyone can spend time blogging and commenting to provide a place for like-minded people to participate from the comfort of their own computer screen.

But what if your time is filled volunteering in the flesh? Even if you streamline, you still need to have the time to do a good job and respond to others online. It’s unavoidable.

Now I’m seriously considering the benefits from all of my activities by asking myself four simple questions.

Does the organization have a positive influence on a priority in my life, such as my children?

What do I get out of the experience personally?

Am I truly helping a broader good or cause?

Will the online interaction improve an aspect of my real life community or career?

When I find the answers, I still have to prioritize whether an online effort with the same benefits outweighs a real life effort with people physically in the same place at the same time. It’s amusing to even consider it.

More and more, time spent online truly competes with real life interactions. How many times have you been dragged away from your computer or internet cell phone connection by someone standing in front of you?

A fellow mom sent me a piece of Flair on Facebook, “Not now sweety, mommy’s on Facebook.” I read it out loud with my 7-year old in the room and he said, “That’s alright mommy.” I spun around in shock and explained that I was only reading something. Was I ignoring him for the computer? At that moment I hadn’t thought I was. Though I often say, “Just let me post this blog real quick and we’ll do something together.”

I can’t imagine quitting as a volunteer to spend my time on my laptop no matter what the reason.

What we all need are online clones to handle our internet duties, blogging, programming and design. Our look-alike avatars could handle everything for us. Who’s working on THAT kind of robot?

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