When I go into a meeting these days, many of my co-workers — most of the young ones, anyway — do exactly the same thing.

They plop into a chair, pop some food or drink into their mouths, and crack open their laptops.

And so the meeting begins, with one laptop staring at another laptop, and the human behind the laptop relatively obscured from the view of most everyone in the room. And as we discuss whatever we’re there to discuss, emails ding and Tweets fly and Facebook sites are updated, all while we’re talking about what we’re being paid to talk about.

Don’t get me wrong. I have no complaints about my co-workers’ work habits or their output — in fact they’re hard at work tweeting and updating for Advocate’s social media (


). But as someone who prefers actual face time to electronic face time, it seems as if the world is devolving into a frenzy of social networking.

And although I’m sure this will sound a little crotchety, I don’t know if this is a good thing.

As I read our cover story this month about outstanding high school seniors who have overcome long odds to graduate, I noticed that none of these students mentioned the pivotal role their laptop played in conquering their challenges. They didn’t talk about how social networking helped them reach their dreams. They didn’t even wax poetic about how the hours they spent texting monosyllabic responses to friends’ monosyllabic comments were contributing to society.

Instead, they told us stories that in today’s world seem kind of dated, tales that involved rising above obstacles the old-fashioned way — working hard, getting hands dirty (figuratively and literally), receiving help from friends and family, and simply bearing down to reach a goal.

So there’s the rub: Are all of the electronics we carry around really helping us accomplish the dreams we once had for ourselves?

The truth is that I’m never alone anymore, because my smart phone sees to it that I’m not left to daydream or ponder anything quietly — the phone is too demanding, too insistent, too disruptive.

But how much value is there in the time we spend in constant communication with one another, learning instantaneously who went to lunch where and what so-and-so had to say about such-and-such and then passing that information along immediately to someone else waiting breathlessly to find out who has what to say about all of that?

Yes, we can be in constant touch with just about anyone and everyone. And yes, there is a definite business and, sometimes, personal value in constant communication.

But on another level, how much does being in constant touch help or hinder achieving our dreams?

These high school kids show us that, even when we’re completely untethered from the electrical outlet, the old-school ways can still make a difference in our lives.

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