Steve Friedman wrote an article about his experiences in the virtual world “Second Life” (SL) in the article “Living the Life” in the April 2007 issue of Southwest Airlines’ Spirit Magazine. The article is probably the first introduction for many airline passengers to the virtual online environment which some believe will transform the way we view the Internet, transact goods and services, and live our lives in the real world. I have dabbled a bit in SL and need to spend more time there to learn more, but I think the following paragraph from Steve’s article reveals the growing importance for “digital discipline” in the lives of many:

Wow, I think, this is kind of fun. What’s not fun is realizing that after 16 days I have developed a serious case of carpal tunnel syndrome and eyestrain, and that I have headaches from not sleeping enough. Plus, so caught up have I become in flying and teleporting and chatting with my new friends (also, to be honest, some harmless flirting at the Goddess of Love Dance Club, which I visit occasionally now that I’ve figured out how to bust some dance moves), that I haven’t really done much empire-building or wealth-amassing.

SL really is an incredible idea and a mind-blowing virtual environment. Like the old west, saloons and brothels are in great supply. More than anything else, at least at present, I think what SL represents is a removal of boundaries. Because you choose your own avatar and the things your avatar does in SL, the following boundaries which generally apply in the real world don’t apply in SL:

  1. You can look and act like anyone you want.
  2. You can, in many ways, remain entirely anonymous and unaccoutable (at least in RL or real life) for your actions.
  3. If you can imagine something, you can build it. Owning land requires money, but you can program new virtual objects and powers in SL for free.

I’m sure many readers of this post have logged many more hours in SL than I, and therefore have much more developed perceptions about the possibilities, benefits as well as drawbacks to “living in SL.” In many ways, SL is an exciting new frontier of possibilities which naturally invites creativity and innovation to be applied in ways that were impossible before SL existed.

My main thought after reading this article was, “Boy do we all ever need to have digital discipline today.” The access of many people to digital devices and digital connections with others is growing at an astonishing rate. Like other tools, some people are going to choose to use these new avenues for communication and creativity for “good purposes” and others for more questionable ones.

What are we going to do with SL, and the potential it presents for learning? Clearly everyone who is in SL is learning a great deal about many things. I wondered today if K-12 Online 2007 should have an entire thread this next year that focuses on SL and even meets there for live events? Why not? Particularly if we can record and archive meetings and activities that take place there, and provide participants with slower dial-up connections with downloadable versions of those interactions, I think this could be a great idea.

Whether we are in SL or RL, we need to have digital discipline to insure we are living our lives according to the priorities we want to genuinely follow. I spoke with a parent the other day whose son is addicted to playing “Halo3” every night at home for many hours late into the night on their family computer. I suggested a 40 day computer fast for him, in which a different activity is substituted for Halo3 playing. My own experiences with an evening technology fast last year were very positive. I didn’t emerge from the experience determined to never use technology in the evenings again, but I certainly did obtain a better perspective on the limits and boundaries of technology use which seem to be more supportive of healthy F2F relationships with my own family members.

Digital discipline. We all need it, and I think we’ll be needing more of it in the years to come. Conversations about digital discipline are worth having, whatever our age or level of technology use. I know plenty of folks who spend WAY too much time watching television (in my admittedly highly-subjective opinion.) Technically speaking, most television signals today remain analog and are not actually “digital,” but the transition is on to digital television as well as digital radio. I consider conversations about television watching habits to fall within the definition of conversations about digital discipline. Digital discipline means being intentional about one’s use of technology options and tools. Digital discipline doesn’t prescribe a fixed amount of time for everyone to spend watching TV, playing video games, interacting with others in SL, or anything else, but it DOES suggest that everyone should strive to be thoughtful and intentional in the way they expend heartbeats with digital things.

On my latest trip to Michigan to speak at a conference, my wife Shelly was able to come along. In the car driving from Holland back to the airport in Chicago, we resolved to write a book about “digital discipline” together. I think ideas are born to be free, and I want to give this book away as a free PDF file download as well as find a traditional print publisher for it. (That may end up being Lulu, or a more traditional publisher.) Both Shelly and I sense that the need we have in our society as a whole for digital dialog and conversations about digital discipline is high already, and likely to only increase in the months and years ahead.

I was glad to learn about TV Turn-Off Week April 23-29 (starting tomorrow) sponsored by the Center for Screen-Time Awareness, via this post from Jeff Utech’s wife. Since I took a 40 day evening technology fast back in November/December I’m going to pass on this week’s TV Turnoff campaign, but I wish everyone who is participating well in the endeavor. The goal of becoming more intentional about our consumption of digital content (which comes to us via various screens) is a GREAT one.

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2 Responses to Need for digital discipline in SL and RL

  1. I wholeheartedly agree that we need to be thinking about digital discipline. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation report, most parents of children ages 8 – 18 are not setting boundaries for technology use. This could contribute to our epidemic of obesity and have other psychological and physical health consequences for a whole generation if we do not practice moderation.

  2. vejraska says:

    I do agree with the idea of digital discipline, and perhaps that should be a built-in conversation or lesson that will happen in my classroom at some point during our year together. I will have to give that some thought.

    I have been thinking about SL quite a bit lately, trying to exercise digital discipline myself, and realizing that my students are already venturing to places like clubpenguin and webkins on their own time. They will eventually graduate to some cool place like SL, or some not so appropriate virtual world. I have had conversations with several students about the safety issue that always comes to my mind even as my seven year old sleds down the hill with “rachel65” (under my watchful eye of course).

    I think it would be totally awesome to make a school with a dream library, a lunchroom with a live band where kids could sit where they wanted and buy whatever they wanted, create their own virtual learning space, have book conversations, get extra recess for doing good deeds like helping someone or picking up litter or inventing some cool thing to add to the school like a pancake powered floor waxer….but it would have to be a limited or closed system to make it safe right? Something on my school server? I know some stuff about using technology to teach, but I really know very little about how you would ever do something like this. So many people have spent countless hours making scary virtual places that I hope none of my students ever go to…can’t someone make a great place?

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