Our digital world is awesome. Last week I was able use the technology awarded to the Knox County Public Library through the library’s new initiative entitled, “Eyes of the Wabash.” This project is funded through an Innovation Grant from Indiana Humanities, made possible with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities. With grant funds, the library purchased equipment which will allow local history organizations in our community to learn about this technology and utilize it to broadcast their stories in amazing new ways. As far as we can tell, there has never been a program like this attempted anywhere.

This is a wonderfully collaborative project and we envision different groups working together to create engaging content like 360-degree videos of the Spirit of Vincennes Rendezvous battle reenactments, interactive tours of their historic locations, and capturing special events.

Speaking of special events, I was unable to attend the library’s holiday “Velveteen Rabbit” event on Dec. 5. However, I was able to experience the event through the virtual reality technology mentioned above. Roger Stremming, the library’s Youth Services Manager, filmed the holiday event as a trial run for our virtual reality technology. Last week, I was able to experience the virtual reality version of the Velveteen Rabbit by slipping the virtual reality headset on and watching Roger’s film. All I can say is, “WOW!” The virtual experience was fun and I felt as if I were sitting in the audience at the Vincennes Fortnightly Clubhouse, surrounded by families I knew.

While new technology is essential and exciting, many people in the U.S. long to find peace in their daily lives. This fantasy of personal peace often includes thoughts of being free or at the least less consumed by technology.

How do we disconnect in such a digitally driven world, and why would we want to? To explain why, Thomas Kersting wrote the book entitled, “Disconnected: How to Reconnect Our Digitally Distracted Kids.” Personally, I would revise the book’s title to include everyone. The author is a school counselor and after-hours private therapist. He shares his personal stories along with scientific evidence and research-based studies to back his claims.

Three highlights of his book include the physical damage, the mental damage, and the social damage caused by overuse of electronics. Fortunately, he also explains how to stop or at least slow down the damage. Physical damage, beyond eyesight and radiation poisoning, includes bending over your device(s) so much that your neck and back require surgery or “tech neck” when your face skin begins to sag in your 30’s and 40’s instead of much later in life. If you are into selfies beware of “selfies' stomach,” which can cause a painful condition known as Tietze disease.

Mental damage would include “Acquired Attention Deficit Disorder.” Our brains are being restructured by the electronics we use. Children's synapses used to be numerous, but research has shown, children and young adults who use electronics have much fewer. Those synapses help them to learn and to make decisions in life. I wonder what the research says about adults.

Then there is social media, a great way to stay connected with friends and family who are sitting right beside you? Socialization via the internet leaves much to be desired. Our Facebook “friends” may like our posts hundreds of time. Is this virtual approval coming from people who really matter in our lives? Have you been restless? Is it from worry or perhaps from not being on your device? Do you avoid work and being with people in person to keep up with the latest chat? One concern the author mentioned is that college students don’t feel safe because they haven’t learned daily coping mechanisms. Yes, electronic tools are great. But, they’re just tools.

Answers to these problems are available with effort on our part. Mr. Kersting goes into detail on limiting the time that children and young adults spend on electronics (this does include television). The adults should set the example and shut off their own devices when spending time with their children, especially at mealtime. Practice “present moment thinking.” This consciousness development concept has us think about where we are and what we’re doing instead of it being automatic. For example, I drive to the library most mornings. I’m not sure I can tell you what I saw along the way because my daily commute is ingrained in my mind. Two other techniques the author highlights are mindfulness and practicing concentration.

The Knox County Public Library also has the book entitled, “You’re Missing It.” It’s a children’s picture book by married actors, Brady Smith and Tiffani Theiseen. This cautionary tale features a busy Hollywood couple and their son. The son repeatedly exclaims to his father, during a walk in the park, “You’re missing it,” as his father ignores the natural beauty surrounding them. Of course, the father is oblivious to the wonders of the park because he’s absorbed by his cell phone. Should you be hiding behind your devices for fear of personal confrontations, read “Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High” by Grenny, McMillan, Switzler and Patterson. One of my favorite quotes from this book is “Lord, help me forgive those who sin differently than I.” If we can look beyond the emotion and answer what result we are after, then we can resolve the issue.

These and other great books are available at the Knox County Public Library.

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