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Gil Laroya

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The Double-Edged Sword That Is the Internet

Posted: 03/ 1/11 12:01 PM ET

The internet is an amazing invention. With it we can do everything from shopping for groceries to starting political revolutions. We can locate long lost family and friends, find jobs, get replacement parts for our bikes and cars, and even voice our opinions and insights to millions of people worldwide. But the other side of the virtual coin is that the internet can cause havoc amongst the living world, disconnecting our reality, causing us to look for EVERYTHING online, and drawing us away from the tactile here and now. So it begs the question - just how connected are you?

I asked myself this question recently, and the results astounded me. I was so connected, that my "real" life was barely at the same level as my virtual one. I had Facebook, I had Twitter, I had Photobucket, I had Yelp, I had Flikr, I had LinkedIn, and some half-dozen other connections. Add to this my HTC Incredible smartphone, with its GPS, texting, web browsing, mobile tweeting / Facebooking / Yelping, and messaging. At one point, I even found myself looking for friends online to talk to, instead of actually talking to real friends face to face. My virtual world had engulfed my life, and in many ways I found it beginning to replace my reality.

I felt like a robot with cables and wire harnesses snapped into my brain. Some may look at it as a form of internet addiction, though in my own defense I know of people who are way more connected than I am.

I came to the conclusion that I needed to simplify; to get back to my roots as a human being, devoid of the wireless world and its random connections. In one fell swoop, I felt that I could wean myself from cyberspace, and at the same time bring myself back to the good 'ole days, before technology invaded my personal space.

So, with a deep breath, I logged on and began logging out. The first was Facebook -- deactivated. Then there was Yelp -- deactivated. Then it was Twitter, and then Flikr, then Photobucket, then Gmail, then Mail.com. It was a virtual hack-and-slash that went on for some 30 minutes. Then I moved onto my smartphone. My ultracool HTC Incredible that had everything that a gadget freak could ask for in a mobile device. I turned it off, pulled out the battery, and set it aside in the hall closet next to my router and dual 16-port switch array (yeah, I'm that connected). I fired up my trusty 2003 Samsung A310 flip phone. Surprisingly, it still turned on, and the battery still held a charge. After getting it connected, I found that it had no real useable web access, and if you tried hard enough, you could manage to squeeze a text message out of it in a pinch. Now thats roughing it in my mind.

Once the smoke cleared, I found myself surrounded -- by reality. The world had gone into reverse, and I was back on the ground. I kept my LinkedIn for career reasons, and of course I'm still here on The Huffington Post.. So technically I'm not 100% disconnected, but in terms of social interaction that occurs online, I think I'm pretty much there.

I can attest to the feeling of freedom that comes with disconnecting socially. I no longer feel the need to check my Facebook status, nor do I look for my smartphone to post a snappy impromptu tweet. No more photo sharing online. No more GPS tracking, no more surfing while waiting for a dentist appointment, no more mobile emailing or instant messages.

Now if I need to contact someone, I have to actually "call them", or else "visit them in person" -- what a revelation. It almost feels weird talking to someone face to face; something that I eluded to in a previous blog, about being disconnected from real people during the holidays. You know things are bad when you feel awkward talking to someone in person, while you feel perfectly fine chatting with that same person via email.

So this is a work in progress. Can a person who works in a technology field and lives in the center of Silicon Valley, actually survive without social connections?

I invite any and all comments. I'd like to hear what you think, and get insights into how real this is. This might turn out to be quite a thread.

Just don't look for a reply from me any time soon... I don't think my little Samsung flip phone could handle a text that complex...