Love in flames: finding the joy in hostile comments

“I don’t know why you care about the shit that a bunch of total strangers say about you on the Internet.”

This was my mom’s delightfully candid and potentially comforting response to this week’s comment eruption on my Harvard Business Review post. My mom is quite an extraordinary person, but her most extraordinary trait may be her almost complete imperviousness to other people’s judgements. I’ve never met anyone who is less perturbed by what other people say or think about her, and while I’m not remotely in her league, her influence is the main reason I can muster the courage to write the occasional provocative blog post.

That said, a day with 100 critical blog comments does send me to the wine bottle when I get home, and leaves me reflecting on whether it’s worth enduring an online onslaught. When people I don’t know tweet that I’m a f***ing idiot, it’s tempting to throw a little pity party, and forget that I was well aware my post was likely to elicit a strong reaction — though I anticipated strong reactions on both sides of the spectrum, as I’ve seen on Twitter, rather than the almost entirely negative pile-on that’s occurred on the HBR comment thread.

It’s even more tempting to take the comfort my mom offered: to simply write off the hostility as the inconsequential utterances of people who I don’t know, and who don’t count, because they are people I’ve never met face-to-face.

But undervaluing online interactions is the exact opposite of what I advocate every time I ask people to stop distinguishing between online life and “real life”. For our online lives to be meaningful and constructive, we have to embrace them as real. And that means embracing the critical, hostile and difficult conversations as real, too, even if it would be easier to dismiss online critics as online strangers.

The fact that I experience online interactions as very real makes a week like this a little bumpy (thus the wine). But the agony of the bumps pales in comparison to the joy that’s come with them: the joy of hearing from so many old and new friends, almost all online.

In the past two days, I’ve received Facebook messages from friends like the seasoned editor who welcomed me into the fold of writers who’ve survived reader outrage. I’ve heard from a high school friend who reminded me how much she loved my writing….all the way back to grade 7! I’ve had a call out of the blue from a former colleague I’ve stayed in touch with only through email and Twitter, encouraging me to take a break from the comment thread for the sake of my own sanity. I’ve received encouraging tweets and DMs from friends and colleagues I know well, and from people I’m connecting with for the first time through this mini-controversy. And I’ve heard from friends who love me enough not only to reach out, but to share their honest and sometimes critical responses to both my argument and the tone of the post.

It’s well established that humans pay a lot more attention to negative feedback than to positive, so it would be natural if these reminders of love and community were overshadowed by hurt or shame at being called a few names. The miracle of this week is that I’ve experienced the opposite: I’m so deeply touched by the warm messages I’ve received that the love has dramatically overshadowed the criticism.

Plowing through the occasional online shitstorm is a near-inevitable part of writing online, and I knew that this week might get windy when I wrote that post. What I manage to forget, between storms, is how much energy it takes to go though them — energy I get from the support and engagement of the people I know and love. I feel like the luckiest person in the world for having such wonderful friends and colleagues, and for living in a moment and medium that allow their loving expression to find me online across distances of time and space.

When we embrace the reality and significance of our online interactions, we not only let in the joy that comes from web-enabled love; we also start to eat at the roots of online hostility. The derogatory flames on this week’s post were the ones that read like folks had forgotten they were talking to or about a human being; the engaging comments (including a great many well-argued criticisms) were the ones that sounded like they came from real people, talking to a real person.

These real conversations are what make the Internet worth living in and engaging with, whether it’s bringing you criticism or love. Because we’re not online strangers. We’re real-life people.

Video: 10 reasons to stop apologizing for your online life

It’s time to stop apologizing for your life online.
That was the central message of my talk at TEDx Victoria in November, now on YouTube. From valuing your online attention to taking your online creativity seriously as real art, I argue that we can only unlock the potential of the Internet when we stop talking about “IRL” — In Real Life. Instead, we need to embrace our online lives as part of our real lives; as RLT — Real Life Too.

This talk expands on my blog post for HBR. Watch it here, and find out the story behind the picture above (by LMS Photography,) which is my new favourite photo of me ever.

My talk was part of an extraordinary day that included inspiring presentations by Norma Cameron, Dave Morris, Victoria Westcott, Jim Tanaka and Raffi Cavoukian (yes, that Raffi) among many others. I was honoured to part of the line-up, and hope you’ll check out all of the terrific TEDx talks now online.

3 practices that restore the meaning of friendship on Facebook

Do you insert audible air quotes when you talk about your Facebook “friends”? If so, it’s time to strip away those air quotes and get serious about your online friends, on Facebook and beyond.

That’s part of the commitment to embracing your real online life that I’ll be talking about tomorrow at TEDxVictoria. My TEDx talk jumps off from a blog post I originally wrote for Harvard Business Review about the 10 reasons to stop apologizing for your online life. So this seems like a good moment to return to the series I started then, fleshing out each of the 10 reasons.

Today I want to tackle the idea of real friendship:

When you treat your Facebook connections as real friends instead of “friends”, you stop worrying about how many you have and focus on how well you treat them.

There are three essential practices that will help you restore some value to the meaning of friendship, however Facebook has cheapened it.

  1. Separate your Facebook brand from your Facebook profileIf you use Facebook for professional purposes, you may be focused on racking up your friend count because you use Facebook as a professional communications, p.r. or marketing channel. Maybe your work would benefit from a big Facebook following, but if so, create a separate Facebook page for professional purposes. (If you’re not creating the page for a specific business or organization, you can choose “artist, band or public figure” and choose the most appropriate profile type for you.)  Use this page as your hub for Facebook outreach and marketing, and use its URL anywhere you’d normally promote your Facebook profile: your blog, your business card or your other social network profiles. Once you’ve got a Facebook presence that’s designed for professional use, you can reclaim your personal profile as the realm of real friendship.
  2. Set a standard for friend requestsEvery time you accept a Facebook friend request from someone you don’t know, or don’t know well, or maybe don’t even like, you’re cheapening the notion of friendship. If you want your online friendships to feel real to you, you’ve got to treat a friend request as if it actually means something. What it means is up to you: set clear criteria for who you will accept as a friend, whether you limit it to people who would put their lives on the line for you, or simply to anyone who knows you well enough to see you in your pjs. Only accept people who meet your criteria, and you’ll be well on the way to restoring some meaning to the notion of friendship.
  3. Make different friend lists for different groups of friendsEvery friendship is different: you may be very close to the woman in the next cubicle at work, but that doesn’t mean you’d tell her the same things you’d share with your best friend from high school. Online, you’ve got an even greater variety of relationships to deal with: in addition to all the usual variations of work friends, old friends, neighbours, etc., you’re dealing with the nuances of some friendships that may exist entirely online, others that date to a long offline history, and some that are true on/offline hybrids. Depending on the nature of each relationship, you’re going to be comfortable sharing different updates, jokes and pictures. So create a list of friends for each kind of content you’d like to share, or each of level of intimacy:  a list for people with whom you want to share family news, a list for the friends who actually like your Star Wars puns, a list for people with whom you’ll share your raciest stories. (Find out how to create a list here.)

Taken together, these three practices will allow you to become more selective about who you accept as a Facebook friend, and to be more targeted about who gets to read or see what. Most important, it will allow you to restore a sense of integrity to the word “friend”, to get rid of those air quotes, and to embrace your online friendships as very, very real.

6 solutions to the sadness of social media

Is social media making us sad?

On the UK’s Channel 4 News website, Benjamin Cohen is concerned that social media is changing the nature of friendship, and has adjusted his use of social media in response:

I’ve stopped sharing as much, full stop….I’m not suggesting that everyone else should do the same, but I’m suggesting that quite a few people might, many have already. Mark Zuckerberg has always said the world would be a better place if it was more open. I’m suggesting that sometimes the world might be a better place if it was more private.

And on the Cunting Linguist, Steffani Cameron writes:

It’s funny, you know, how we kid ourselves about how much this online shit matters…There’s this delusion that the more followers you have, the more of a voice you have, or that you can be so much more yourself. The opposite is actually true….When people start actually reading your stuff, merely venting gets complicated.  I feel I’m less able to express myself on this blog now. I feel like I have to “watch” what I say. …Welcome to the digital paradox. You can be “yourself” to a bigger audience than ever before, but how true is it?

These two blog posts reflect a growing unease with social media, one that is most adeptly and thoroughly addressed in Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together. Like Turkle, they suggest that the volume, frequency and tenor of online interaction are negatively affecting our human capacity for meaningful connection and relationship. It’s a concern I come across frequently, no doubt in large part because I go looking for it via Google searches on terms like “information overload”.

But you don’t have to dig deeply into the blogosphere to discover that lots of us are suffering over the impact of social media on our daily lives. Even those of us who are unwilling to follow Cohen in pulling back our level of online sharing may have reservations about the way that sharing plays out. We carry our smartphones everywhere, but resent the sound that indicates a new email has arrived. We celebrate the steady growth of our Twitter followers or blog traffic, then agonize when it stalls or declines. We love the ability to access the Internet anytime or anywhere, but feel insulted if the person we’re with decides to go online instead of looking us in the eye.

These are the pains of transition, but a transition to what? The transition to a world in which we accept and even embrace the 24/7 distraction and overexposure of social media as the price of at-our-fingertips information and expression? Or to a world in which we succeed in containing our time online, and setting some limits on where, when and what we share through social media?

For those who would limit the corrosive effects of social media and perpetual connectivity, solutions seem to come in 6 flavours:

  1. Policies: Families, organizations or even governments could limit the amount of time we spend online. Families could set screen time limits; businesses could (and frequently do) block employees from using Facebook or YouTube. Governments could use privacy laws to protect citizens from their own rampant oversharing, or enact labor laws that insulate workers from the pressure to work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  2. Markets: Global recession, skyrocketing energy prices or the erosion of net neutrality could increase the costs of connectivity to the point at which people actually reduce usage. Conversely, an economic boom could produce a generation of affluence in which high-skill workers feel no anxiety about their economic prospects, and thus, no pressure to work online after hours.
  3. Technologies: Cell phone jammers could (and occasionally do) prevent individuals from using their phones in restaurants or other “inappropriate” public places. Timers could shut computers or Internet connections during designated hours. Better search and discovery tools could allow people to become more focused and productive in their time online, and reduce the amount of time they spend using the Internet.
  4. Services: Individuals could scan or scrub their online profiles with the help of Internet consultants, perhaps even going so far as to rename themselves to escape their online pasts. Constant Internet use or information overload could be treated with psychological counselling or a 12-step program that returns screen time to socially accepted levels.
  5. Norms: Widespread discomfort with social media and 24/7 Internet use could lead to social sanctions that inhibit public texting, computing or even phone use. Someone who takes out their computer at a coffee shop might suffer withering glares, or even be asked to leave. People who answer email after 6 pm will become social pariahs. Families who let their kids use the Internet will be regarded with the same contempt as those who feed their children a steady diet of sugar and Doritos.
  6. Choices: Individuals will realize that they are happier, more authentic and fulfilled in their offline lives, and reduce the amount of time they spend using social media.

If you think all of these scenarios sound far-fetched — or at least, unlikely to put a serious dent in our levels of Internet use — I’m with you. Pandora’s Big Box of Social Media is well and truly open, and we’re discovering a whole new repertoire of ailments the Ancient Greeks never imagined.

But don’t despair. Accepting the misery of 24/7 distraction isn’t the only alternative to limiting the growth of our time online. The transition to an always-on world may be unstoppable, but it’s a transition we’ve barely started: why assume it’s the transition to a dystopic future? We’ve only just begun experimenting with the policies, markets, technologies, services, norms and choices that focus not on stemming the transition, but harnessing it to the creation of a better world and happier lives. And most of us have lived far too long in the pre-Internet world to move immediately and fluidly into this new on/offline hybrid; we need time to adjust, to reinvent ourselves, and to let the population shift in favour of those who grew up online.

As we evolve into a society of digital natives and fluent digital immigrants, the suffering of social media will ease. We’ll become less painfully aware of its shortcomings, and more appreciative of its delights. And eventually, we’ll stop agonizing over the pain of life online, and recognize it simply as the pain of life.

140-character lessons in how to live your real life online

Your online relationships, conversations and creativity are as real as anything you do offline. That’s the message I delivered last weekend at Northern Voice, Canada’s leading blogging conference. My talk, titled Stop Apologizing for Your Online Life, jumped off from the HBR post I wrote last year (which itself jumped off from a much longer work I’ve been developing over the past couple of years).

But as so often happens, brevity brings clarity. The tweets that popped up during my talk in many cases distilled my key points better than I have myself. So let me share some of the highlights — including not only the awesome 140-character summaries but also some of the inspired and inspiring results.

Tracy Bains
“Start getting real. Tips: Make real friends. Take the idea of friendship literally on at least 1 platform.” via @awsamuel #nv11
read, reply or RT this on Twitter
Daniel Hooker
Directing our attention is the number one way we can direct the growth of the web. @awsamuel #nv11
read, reply or RT this on Twitter 

Nicolas Demers
If you’re going to be online, you need to commit to creating meaning, not just filling (virtual) space @awsamuel #nv11
read, reply or RT this on Twitter
Jason Baker
Our conversation doesn’t count online by using I.R.L. It’s a mask for apologizing. Start using R.L.T = Real Life Too
read, reply or RT this on Twitter
“Stop using this fucking acronym: IRL” @awsamuel #nv11
read, reply or RT this on Twitter
“If you say my online life isn’t real, my Facebook friends will kick your ass” @awsamuel sticker quote #nv11
read, reply or RT this on Twitter
“The next time someone tells you you can’t be “friends” with someone thru Twitter/FB, the appropriate response is $%@& you” @awsamuel #nv11
read, reply or RT this on Twitter
Mary Leong
@awsamuel: Online life isn’t just about multitasking – you can be as present online as you are in person. #nv11
read, reply or RT this on Twitter
Jarrah Hodge
Sorry Kevin B who just friend requested me on FB – I went to @awsamuel‘s talk earlier today and I’m ignoring you RLT #nv11
read, reply or RT this on Twitter
Hey @awsamuel, I met my online bro @kootenayborn for the 1st time (offline) at your #nv11 talk. :) #rlt
read, reply or RT this on Twitter
Christina Adams
Everybody on the internet is human, with their own sad story. Even the dicks. Especially the dicks.
read, reply or RT this on Twitter

Thanks to everybody who shared their response to this talk, both online and offline. And a special thank you to Sandi Amorim for including me in her great blogger’s eye view of this year’s Northern Voice, and to Mike Vardy for an extraordinarily generous words about my talk in his Northern Voice piece for The Next Web.

I’m so delighted this talk struck a chord, and hope I’ll have a chance to bring this message to other conferences and groups in the future. If your organization or event is ready to hear about how they can stop apologizing for life online, I hope you’ll get in touch.

Listening to the voice that says it’s ok to be online

I saw my first Broadway musical in 1979: a revival of I saw my first Broadway musical in 1979: a revival of The King and I starring Yul Brynner and Constance Towers. 1979 was the end of a the decade in which microphones became ubiquitous on Broadway, so I heard a King who captured me not only with his stage presence but with his enveloping voice. Microphones had been around for years, of course, but in the course of the seventies they became universal. Over the course of the following decade, the next wave of amplification came in the form of body mics: big musicals like Les Miserables put a microphone on the person of each and every cast member.

The King and I was the beginning of a lifelong obsession with musicals, and as I learned more about their history I heard lots of people mourn the advent of amplification. Miles Kreuger, a musical theater historian I interviewed for my college radio show, talked longingly about hearing Gertrude Lawrence in the original production of The King and I. She had a small voice, he said, so everybody quieted down and actually listened. If Gertrude Lawrence could be heard, he said, anyone can be heard without a microphone.

For all the mystique surrounding old-style, unamplified shows, I never felt like I was missing much. Then in 2002, I saw Barbara Cook at Lincoln Center. Cook is one of Broadway’s legendary divas, and in recent years has become a teacher and mentor to many up-and-coming performers. As a teacher of vocal technique, it makes sense that she would show off the way it should — or at least could — be done. For her final number, Cook sang Anyone Can Whistle without amplification.

It was spectacular. It was magical. And it in no way changed my feelings about the amplified musicals I’d seen and enjoyed for years. I had been captivated by almost every one of those shows, and the use of microphones hadn’t kept me from falling in love with Tommy Tune at the age of 12 (no, that didn’t work out too well) or crying my eyes out at the end of Falsettos at the age of 21.

The continued hand-wringing over how amplification has damaged the musical reminds me of the hand-wringing over how the Internet has damaged human communications. A new technology comes along and makes some voices louder: we’re told that once we no longer have to work at paying attention, we stop listening. We’re told we won’t appreciate nuances that get lost when we turn up the volume.

We’ve turned up the volume, all right: the volume of e-mail, the volume of information, the volume of ways we have to connect. And it can get very loud online. But talk to most musical theater-lovers, including those of us who regard our affection for Stephen Sondheim as proof that we are serious musical theater people, and they will probably confess that they loved Les Miz, mikes and all. Loud is loud, but it isn’t necessarily bad. It’s just another kind of stimulation, another kind of spectacle.

Growing up online is like growing up in the era of the amplified musical. Quieter forms of communication — letters, phone calls, and increasingly e-mail itself — get crowded out by texting, IMs and Facebook. The digital natives who grow up in this environment may be perfectly happy with the level of stimulation and engagement it offers, and have no nostalgia for a past quiet they don’t know and can’t recall.

And those of us who do recall it would do well to remember that nostalgia is no proof of superiority. We may sometimes miss leaning forward — into the phone, over the coffee table — but spend more and more time leaning back, nestled into the sofa with our smartphones and our tablets. We romanticize the good old days in our paeans to the written letter and the work-free weekend, but we check our Blackberries as  much as the next guy.

Once we let go of the normative superiority of the olden days we can listen to our behavior rather than our nostalgia. We can recognize that our daily choices to spend time online and communicate electronically may not reflect some kind of moral failing or compulsion, but rather, a legitimate preference and decision. We can hear the inner voice that is telling us, oh so quietly, that actually we quite like these Internets. And we can hear that voice equally well, if a bit differently, with or without a mike.

The 5 questions to ask about online distraction

New technology, in the form of mobile phones, email, texting, the Web, and, more specifically, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, and other social media, enables us to be in a constant state of distraction (what we euphemistically like to call multitasking). Our ability to immerse ourselves in a single activity is becoming a lost art.

..[M]y concern is that we will lose our ability to absorb ourselves and find delight in the minutiae of life: the subtlety of the written language found in a book, the smell of lilacs while out for a walk, the sight of a hummingbird extracting nectar from a flower, the intellectual and emotional enjoyment of a stimulating conversation. And without these “simple pleasures” perhaps what will be most lost is the depth of happiness that can only come from unmediated, complete, and sublime engagement in life.

That’s the heart of Jim Taylor’s blog post today, Be Focused, Be Happy. In the past 6 months I’ve seen a number of people advance this kind of argument about the potentially deleterious impact of the Internet, but Jim’s post has to be one of the best-written, clearest and most compelling. And for that very reason, it helped me crystallize my concern about this growing genre of “The Internet is eating our happiness” arguments.

Here are the 5 questions that any argument about the distracting impact of the Internet has to answer:

1. What is the evidence showing that the Internet is the primary cause of distraction and disconnection?

I would agree that we are a presence-starved culture. But what makes us think that the Internet is the prime culprit? Shopping, booze, drugs (both legal and illegal), TV, work…there are dozens of ways that people numb out or multitask. I can’t argue that there is an element of self-soothing distraction to some of our online behavior, but it strikes me that the distraction of using social media has the virtue of involving some kind of human connection or creative expression. This brings me to my second question:

2. What is the basis for the claim that online activities are the distraction, and offline activities are the “real” focus?

Arguments about multitasking typically imply that our Twittering is distracting us from our offline meetings, or blogging is distracting us from our face-to-face relationships. That kind of argument is based on the implicit superiority, or at least superior “realness”, of our offline lives.

Yet our offline lives are full of artificiality: moments when we fail to speak honestly. Personas we adopt to avoid awkwardness or vulnerability. Meetings we don’t want to be at, jobs or relationships we don’t want to be in. In contrast, many people embrace their lives online (often under a pseudonym) because it allows them to be more genuine than they know how to be offline.

For those of us who are sometimes at our most genuine online, it seems preposterous to see the Internet as a distraction. On the contrary, our times online may include some of our moments of greatest presence: of full-throttle, fully immersed, fully awake commitment to being ourselves. Just the kind of moment that can bring us real happiness.

3. What’s the alternative?

Of course, not every moment online is that kind of fully present moment. As with our offline lives, life online is full of empty, thoughtless, numbed-out times: I say this as a woman who has lost a really appalling amount of time this month to Angry Birds.

So I’ll give this to Jim and all the other folks who are worried about the social and mental health impacts of our increasingly wired lifestyles: the way that many of us use the net, much of the time, is indeed cause for concern. But what’s the alternative?

The implication of Jim’s post — along with the New York Times’ Your Brain on Computers series, or Nick Carr’s The Shallows — is that we’ve got to switch off. Maybe not completely, but more than we do now.

To buy that argument is to give into despair. Because if you look at our history as a species, and especially over the past two hundred years, you’ve got to admit that our track record with the off switch is not exactly stellar. Where there is a new technology, there are people using it. I’m hard-pressed to think of a single example of a technology (broadly defined) that has been widely adopted and then widely rejected on the grounds of its social/mental health impact.

Which is to say that our daily, hourly use of the Internet is not going anywhere. So rather than wringing our hands over its deleterious impact, we need to think about how to use it constructively. To notice all the ways and moments it’s actually helping us be more present and more happy.

My desire to see the Internet in positive terms, if only because I think it’s irrevocably part of our lives, leads me to ask myself a question on a weekly if not a daily basis:

4. Am I just trying to justify my life online?

The inner (and outer) voice of any addict is full of claims about why the addictive behavior is not, actually, a problem. So just as I interrogate any Internet skeptic with the three questions above, I regularly ask myself whether they might, in fact, be right about the Internet. Maybe it is just a big addiction, distraction, pathology.

And then I have one of those moments: the moment where I write something for my blog that has me deeply, fully immersed in the writing process in a way I would never experience if I didn’t have an immediate channel for self-publication. The moment when I make a human connection and talk frankly about something very personal with someone else who shares the same challenge…even though we’ve never met offline, and perhaps don’t know each other’s names. The moment when I discover some miracle of creativity and joy online because someone else has found a unique and delightful form of self-expression.

Those are the moments that let me know that my faith in our ability to make constructive, meaningful use of the Internet isn’t just the voice of denial. And they’re the moments that inspire one last question — or perhaps it’s a challenge — to everyone who worries about the deleterious effects of the Internet:

5. How could you create your own experience of presence and happiness online?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The suffering of technology users

I love this paragraph because I think it distills and represents the pain and suffering so many people now feel around the role of technology in their lives:

I like technology just as much as the next person, but sometimes I find myself feeling overwhelmed with it all. I rely on technology everyday to do my job, to stay connected with friends and family, to drive, to withdrawal money from the bank, and to learn new things (What would we do without the internet?!). I could go on and on about the technology that I use on a daily basis, but it might take forever. Sometimes I feel like I spend more time with my computer than with my friends and family. I often wonder if I would be able to spend one whole day without any technology at all. No TV. No cell phone. No car. No computer. I would just need a book (paper, not electronic), board game (Yup, they still make them!) or a good conversation for entertainment. Ah….a day without technology sounds great to me!

And yet it’s noteworthy (and again, quite representative) that the author goes on to reflect on all the ways that technology makes life better and easier, especially for people with disabilities. That’s how it goes: technology overwhelms, scares and worries us…but we recognize that it’s worth the high price it exacts.

When are we going to stop searching for the off switch, and instead find a way to live with technology so that we can enjoy its upsides without suffering so much over its impact?

Another voice for your real life online

Suzanne Moore at the Mail Online has written my favorite recent social media polemic, Why my friends on Facebook and Twitter matter as much as those in the real world.

As a journalist, I am a fan of both Facebook and Twitter and am rather bored of people telling me that I shouldn’t be talking to people I don’t know in real life. I am not five, living in a world of ‘stranger danger’. Yes it’s true some people do tweet every time they have tea, but others can inform you of events or just make you laugh. Facebook is great for exchanging music. On Twitter, no news exclusive remains so for more than about two minutes. If I want to know what’s happening, I find it faster than all the major news sites….

Don’t tell me this is somehow not the real world. It is an enhancement of it and those who I have met through social media have been a delight. The notion that one may be too busy recording and recounting one’s experience to be actually enjoying the moment is being tested. If we feel that nothing is happening unless it is witnessed then this is indeed a massive shift in consciousness.

You really want to read the whole thing.

2 weeks of tips on meaningful living online

Unplugging is not the only way to take control of your relationship to the Internet. If you want to create a more meaningful life and a healthier world, there are ways to pursue that online as well as offline.

But you need to find tools that are more nuanced than the off switch. If you’re turning off the computer because you want to spend your time with intention and integrity, that’s terrific; just remember that same motivation the next time you turn your computer back on.

That said, the off switch has its place, and for the next two weeks, I’m trying to rediscover mine while we take a family vacation. Nothing as extreme as going offline – I said this was vacation, not torture – but definitely spending few hours at a desk and more hours with my kids. And that means less time writing.

So I thought these next two weeks would be a good time to go back into the archives and dig up some of the ideas I’ve played with over the past five years of blogging, and particularly over the past three years in which I’ve been focused on this question of meaningful living online. In the next two weeks I’ll share a series of short posts that present practices or tips for meaningful living online, as blogged over the past several years here, with reflections on how these practices have played out for me personally.

I’m going to start with a practice that I included in my post on 5 ways to shape the soul of the Internet, which was kind of the grandmother to my recent post on 10 reasons to stop apologizing for your online life:

Fuse the power of money and technology. The soul of the Internet is not just analogous to the soul of money; they’re interconnected. The Internet is our bank, our shopping mall, our charity box. Taking our financial transactions, shopping and giving online is an opportunity to transform our dysfunctional experiences on those fronts into more meaningful and effective interventions. You can shop at Etsy instead of Overstock, or supplement habitual workplace charitable giving with personal investments on Kiva.

That idea, along with the post it came from, was inspired by The Soul of Money by Lynne Twist. Give it a read…and let me know how you bring intention and integrity to the way you spend money online.