The other day I saw two teenage girls sitting on a park bench, staring at their phones. A small dog was sitting in front of them wagging his tail, desperately trying to get their attention.
Still fixated on their phones, one of the girls started smiling and handed her phone to her friend. She said, "Is that the cutest dog you've ever seen?" At that exact moment, their little mutt looked over at me as if to say, "And what am I, chopped liver?"
The phone world got their attention. The real dog didn't.
This morning I walked into Starbucks and saw an entire family sitting at a table, sipping on coffee, which was a little alarming since two of the family members looked like they were under the age of nine. All of them were staring at their phones, except Grandma, who was staring off into space with cloudy eyes. Nobody was laughing, or telling stories, or interacting.
The observation disturbed me, so I forced my husband into sharing an interesting story so we could laugh and show them the importance of interacting in the three-dimensional world. As my husband stumbled, trying to come up with something to entertain us both, a woman literally backed into me, ass to face. because she was staring at her phone and was oblivious to her surroundings. I've heard the term "ass face," but I've never experienced it. It isn't pleasant.
I'm not going to lecture everyone about technology and how it's ruining the world, because I believe it is behavior that makes or breaks the utilization of a new tool. And I think we've proven as far back as the discovery of fire that we can use innovations for good or evil. I've sat around a campfire on a cold night and seen the good. I've been forced to cook on a gas stove and have witnessed the evil.
So, let's assume that technology is neither good nor bad. It simply is. But our fascination with things on a flat screen when we have the real thing right in front of us is disconcerting. Because the real, 3-D people aren't constantly clever. Our houses aren't all white like those posted in Pinterest. That white couch lasts about 14 seconds in the real world of children and pets. Our cakes are rarely picture-worthy, although mine could be part of the Good Housekeeping "What Were You Thinking" series.
I believe we are falling in love with a convenience and perfection afforded only through technology. I was watching a little league baseball game and realized that I missed a good play while talking to the person next to me. I immediately yearned for a replay, and was alarmed when I realized it didn't exist in the real world. I have stood in front of annoying real-life people, pressing my thumb into my palm hoping that I could somehow advance the channel.
Comparing our real world to the screen world is going to set up a competition that the real world will never win. When a wife goes through menopause, the husband is going to look at his screen and see Cindy Crawford and Jane Seymour, still stick-thin and sitting in all white pants with nary a bad mood. As his real wife spits venomous, inexplicable accusations about how he left his shoes in the middle of the bedroom floor causing her to trip in the middle of the night, the husband will gaze at his device and yearn for Cindy and Jane. Because they are skinny and happy and spend their menopausal years creating open-heart necklaces.
In the real world, if we covered our naked bodies in blue paint and ran through a jungle, James Cameron would NOT follow us with a camera. Most of us would simply scare the squirrels and end up with poison oak in unfortunate areas.
I even believe animals are feeling the pressure between daily life and YouTube life. Go to the zoo, and you'll find people standing in front of the gorilla display, staring at their phones, searching for a gorilla who does sign language or is saving a small boy who's fallen into his habitat. The actual gorilla, who is simply throwing his feces at the crowd, is disappointing.
Lions are expected to jump up and hug you around the neck like the one did in my favorite YouTube video -- you know, the one where that lady saved him and seven years later she banged on his cage and he jumped up and hugged her. I pity the fool who confuses reality with screen life and tries to lean into the cage of any ordinary lion to hug it out.
Our lives are now in limbo between imagination and the real world, and I'm not totally sure the real world is going to hold up. That old high school boyfriend on Facebook lives in our memories, and will always be a little more interesting than the man you love who is farting in the kitchen.
We have to remember that the real world is something we can be a part of, flaws and all. We might not have constantly clever quips coming out of our mouths, but we are there holding each other's real hands when a crisis occurs. And we might not be airbrushed, but we jog when we want to eat, and we pay for new haircuts and we try to look nice for those we love.
Maybe we should just realize that real life involves all the flaws that make us laugh and all the love that makes life worth living. And that man farting in our kitchen might not always compete with our high school fantasies, but he is our very best friend and he's loved us when we've spewed words like Linda Blair during our worst menopausal moments ever.
And that gives the real world a tiny edge in my book.
On Instagram (iPhone and Android, free), users take photos from their daily lives and have the option to apply a variety of filters to enhance or touch-up their images. Users then have the ability to share their images on various social network sites as well as Instagram's own social network. Users also have the ability to "like" other users' photos and share with their own friends. BEST FOR: The application is best for those wanting to share the daily images of their lives. As Instagram has grown in popularity, many users can share their photos on multiple social networks. It's a great way to share your latest craft project or vacation adventures with your family and friends. TIPS & TRICKS: Photos from Instagram don't have to stay in the online realm. Users now have the ability to easily turn their filtered photos into actual photos on canvas using CanvasPop or even into desk calendars with the app Calendargram (iPhone, free), which would make great gifts for all of your loved ones.
Google+ is a social networking site that encompasses a variety of features, including Google Hangouts, an online spot that facilitates group chat and the "+1 button" that allows users to show your personal endorsement of an informative article or an interesting item. Google+ allows you to categorize your contacts into a variety of groups called circles. With circles, you can choose what groups can see what you post and what you share. If you want to talk about a family get-together, you can share it with your friends and family circle, but not your professional colleagues. BEST FOR: Google+ is ideal for those who want to share content-rich information. It has features for sharing personal documents and photos, articles and can connect users via text chat and video chat. The social media network also has over 40 games where you can connect with friends and share your scores with your different circles. TIPS & TRICKS: Google Docs has recently been integrated into Hangouts, the video chat feature of Google+. Now users can pull up their documents while using the video chat feature and you can even share your screen to make for a productive and basically face-to-face conference.
Pinterest is a virtual pin board where users can "pin" images on a variety of topics, such as home décor, recipes, and apparel. Pinterest users then create boards to house the images, so users may have one specific to anniversary planning, birthday parties, favorite recipes or quotes, for example. The cyber-version of "vision-boards," users have the opportunity to browse and share images. BEST FOR: If you're constantly surfing the web to collect ideas, it can be difficult to remember every site you visited or how to keep up with all of your bookmarks. With Pinterest, the "pinning" can be added to your internet browser easily and you can start collecting all of your favorite images. TIPS & TRICKS: Need some quick gift ideas for your grandchild's first birthday party or your son's promotion and not sure what you're looking for? Pinterest has segmented categories for price ranges in their gift section and you can quickly click on the image to take you to the product information and you can order right from your mobile device or computer.
Twitter is an online, micro-blogging social network channel that allows users to share and read posts up to 140 characters. Users can follow friends, celebrities, news distributors, companies and other organizations to keep up with daily news, the "it" celebrity or the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. BEST FOR: Twitter is a great way to quickly receive news and catch updates from your friends, family, favorite sports team or news outlet. You can create different lists to separate your personal friends from the entertainment world from breaking international news. TIPS & TRICKS: To help you create lists, Twitter has a suggestions feature that provides categories such as music, fashion, technology and government. With these suggestions, you can have a complete list to keep you up-to-date on these areas. Also remember, watch what you tweet, especially if your information is public. News and broadcast networks could feature you on their show if you interact with them online.
With "more than 10 billion visits per month and the Facebook user hitting the site an average of 68.7 times every month," according to The Financial Brand, most people are familiar with the social networking site. A recent study from AARP amongst people age 50+ showed that 23% of those surveyed either used or frequently visited Facebook, which was by far the most popular social network amongst their age group. One thing to keep in mind is that Facebook has seen changes recently with Timeline, meaning users need to familiarize themselves with the different privacy policies that accompany the modifications. BEST FOR: To best use Facebook, remember to keep in mind what you want to share. Check your privacy settings and if you need help, remember that Geek Squad is available 24/7 online at geeksquad.com to help you navigate the changes. TIPS & TRICKS: Did you know you can now use Facebook to connect you and your friends through text message? If your Wi-Fi or internet connectivity is off, you can still contact your friends and family via Facebook. You can turn on text messaging so your contacts can use Facebook Messages to send you texts. Also, once you have activated text messaging through your Facebook account you can send a text to 32665 (FBOOK) and in the message, write msg and the name of the person you'd like to Facebook message and it will send to their inbox! For example: msg Joe Smith How are you?
LinkedIn is a social networking tool focused on professional networking and building business relationships. The tool can be used to network and has informational tabs that compile your personal industry's top news for the day for quick reference. BEST FOR: LinkedIn can be used to connect professionally and also as a supplement to the traditional resume and business card. You have the ability to expand and personalize your descriptions and skills that you sometimes leave off in hard copies. You even have the option of adding a video onto your LinkedIn profile to give you an extra boost in impressions. TIPS & TRICKS: Frequently check your LinkedIn to see what your contacts and colleagues are up to. It's a great way to stay connected professionally.
Watch who you "Friend" and "Follow." On many social media sites, people can request to follow or friend you. If you're not comfortable with strangers having access to your social media information, depending on the social media tool, you could have the option to allow them access to pre-approved sections of your profile. Privatize your profile. Geek Squad can show you how to take advantage of the privacy settings offered by social media sites. By marking your page as private, people have to request you as a friend or ask for your approval in order to "follow" you on Twitter or view your complete Facebook profile. Social media websites generally undergo changes a few times every year, and most of those facelifts affect privacy settings in some way - though users may not be directly alerted of those specific changes. If you notice changes on social-networking site homepages, it's a good idea to revisit your privacy settings, perform a quick internet search to learn more or ask a Geek Squad Agent to give you the scoop.
Beware of your posts! Always remember that any content you post on the internet will be there forever, for anyone to read, store and republish. Remember that this information is stored somewhere, likely in multiple places. Avoid sharing personal information. License plate numbers, house numbers or other addresses as well as specific names of schools, workplaces or towns should be not shared on the internet. Information can be used like pieces in a puzzle to paint a bigger picture of you. Always take a second look. Just because the screen says your friend John has sent you information doesn't mean John is actually the person who did. Scams often run rampant on social media sites, so beware of any unusual messages. For example, hackers disguise messages to your contacts claiming to need money after being robbed or having lost money in a foreign country. Trust your gut. If it doesn't "seem right" it probably isn't. Things free or too good to be true are just that. Social networking sites have been a breeding ground for fake antivirus software ads, so avoid any type of free antivirus offers.
Follow Donna Highfill on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DonnaHighfill