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FEHR: Staying connected is crucial, online & otherwise

Right now, I have about three Facebook Chat windows open, my phone gets a new text every five or so minutes, and I just finished tweeting. Cyber addict? Maybe a little.

Right now, I have about three Facebook Chat windows open, my phone gets a new text every five or so minutes, and I just finished tweeting.

Cyber addict? Maybe a little.

But it's not uncommon these days and the constant exchange of information does have benefits along with drawbacks.

A few weeks ago at dinner, I was chatting with my family about how little a break anyone in my generation can get from the onslaught of public scrutiny. Facebook, Twitter, unlimited texting and this brave new world full of information traffickers has seen to that.

In day-to-day life, my networks are crucial to my operation.

I run a performing arts society for youth in the Tri-Cities and I need to be able to return an email, post Facebook events, text my staff and more at the drop of a hat. I need to know who's doing what and make sure they're actually doing it.

I discuss schoolwork with friends online. I plan bus routes and check schedules over the net. And being able to know exactly what's going on with anyone allows me to know exactly what I need to do.

Besides that, it's social. Talking to people and getting to know a bit about them is fun and I can do all that on Facebook or MSN or Twitter.

This past summer, I took part in a magnificent course that helped me to gain insight on the impact that our networks have on our lives. The course taught wilderness survival, with two major practical exams. The first, lasting three days, had us living in groups of three with no contact to anyone outside our trio. For the second, lasting five days, I was alone. (I was monitored by staff from a distance but had no direct contact with anyone for the duration.)

Going between the two extremes of social connectivity, I was shocked at the way my mind was affected. It seems in today's society, being able to access any data at any time gives us a sense of security that we depend on.

Out in the woods alone, I talked to a rock. I spent ages narrating a war between ants and spiders. I counted to 2,116. And I practised my musical theatre numbers in a clearing. Soon enough, though, the sound of my own voice sounded almost alien to me - I hadn't had a conversation in days. Seeing the people out to monitor us was torturing. I would have given anything for a sign that I still existed in their world because mine was lopsided. On that outing, I vividly remember being angry at the root of a tree as if it had intentionally wronged me.

All craziness aside, though, I realized in my trio that the fewer people we interact with, the better we may get to know them. I remember my two partners well, Devos and Cook. By the end of the first night, sitting up, keeping the fire alive to stay warm, I began telling Cook some of the things in life that I would keep secret from anyone else but my closest friends. We spoke of love and loss and stress and friends and family, and everything in between, after knowing each other less than twenty-four hours.

The story was the same for the remainder of the trip. It was actually enjoyable between the three of us, regardless of the lack of food or shelter or hygiene. We went on foraging ventures and tried to study our plants to understand how they grew. We wove ropes and played games of ring toss and tug-of-war. It was just the three of us, and just for three days, but, for those three days, we were the best of friends.

That said, it's hardly fair to expect anyone to go run off and live in the woods. And in among today's techno teens, not being online is hardly an easy way to live.

And so I challenge each and every one of you reading this: Don't deactivate your phones and your Facebook, chat with friends online, even tweet, but make sure you're not missing those beautiful fire-lit nights, those moments with those closest to you. Because they'll be the best moments you'll ever have.

--Colin Fehr is a Port Moody high school student who occasionally writes columns for The Tri-City News.