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2009: Living virtually in a physical world

In Our Valley exactly a decade ago, we examined how the internet was changing the way we live, work and play. Readers were swooning over the new social media tool called Facebook, noting it reconnected them with long-lost kin and friends, gave insights into everyone’s vacations, relationships and kids, and in the case of real estate broker Scott Lewis (and millions of others), got his name out there and helped business.

The World Wide Web had been around since 1990, but Facebook wasn’t invented until 2004. By 2009 it had garnered an astounding 100 million members; today it boasts a whopping 2.3 billion monthly users — a third of humanity.

In the 2009 Our Valley story, Lewis predicted Facebook would make email obsolete, but that hasn’t happened. Email allows greater depth and privacy and lets you write long ideas or proposals — and they are more easily preserved.

After a decade of Facebooking, Lewis, a longtime TV weatherman until six years ago, says, “I’ve learned to keep it short on Facebook. Long posts are tough to sustain. Photos are usually more interesting than without. I go to seminars, and professionals (in real estate) say communication is all going to video, but I don’t necessarily enjoy sitting there watching video. I don’t have the patience.”

The hyper-digital universe of Facebook has, of late, spurred many people to hand-write notes on paper and snail-mail them — and that’s a kind touch Lewis adores.

“People love them, even if it’s a short card. I do it with real estate clients and select friends. If I receive a card in the mail, it rises to the top and is the first thing I want to see. It’s so refreshing and personal compared to digital.”

Many users have faulted Facebook for lack of privacy and for marketing of data that’s in plain view there, causing a shift to Twitter and the simpler, more visual Instagram, but Lewis avoids them, noting, “Urgent things are rarely important, and important things are rarely urgent.”

Realtors, he says, are using Instagram, and he’s taken flak for not showing up there, he says. Facebook is a social network, he notes — so he sticks with texts and the phone, with email in third place.

Southern Oregon University student Petra Lilley, a landscape consultant, has mostly abandoned Facebook, noting, “It’s uninspirational and a black hole of time, and I’d much rather spend time with a few people than try to live vicarious lives on Facebook. We use Instagram. It’s a much cleaner and more simplified interface and more tailored to what I look for in my personal life and what benefits my business.”

Twitter, she adds, is “fun and exploratory, but it’s just way too much and too full of ideologues who are unwilling to see things outside their mindset.”

Longtime valley musician and tai chi teacher Gene Burnett says Facebook is “a nice way to look in on my friends’ lives, connect with other, likeminded people in various groups, post new things in my world, like videos, gigs, special events. It’s allowed me to connect with people in my past that I almost certainly would have lost touch with.”

Burnett calls for a balance of time on- and off-screen.

“Young people spend a ridiculous number of hours daily looking at screens. We are adapted to living in the physical, not the virtual world. The physical world is dangerous and beautiful and worth paying attention to. For that reason, I don’t even have a cellphone. I love the net, but when I leave the house, I want to be alert to the world around me. If you spend more time online than off, it’s almost certain your health will suffer.”

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. You can reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Former KDRV weatherman Scott Lewis had more than 300 friends on Facebook when this photo ran in the 2009 issue of Our Valley. Mail Tribune / file photo