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Have your say: How do we connect face-to-face in the age of Facebook and Amazon?

Craig and Marc Kielburger, founders of Free the Children and Me to We, seek solutions to significant social problems. In Brain Storm they explore an issue, solicit informed opinions or new ideas from experts, and then throw open the discussion to Globe readers.

It's easy to be captivated by technology. We can now do virtually all our shopping, banking and socializing online. And when we do leave the house, we can withdraw cash at an ABM, exchange text messages from a crowded bus with someone who isn't on the bus, check ourselves in at the airport and check ourselves out at the grocery store – collectively eliminating most of the people in our neighbourhood from our daily experience.

Mr. Rogers would surely be appalled.

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It's said that in the Internet age, the whole world is our neighbourhood. But where does that leave the in-person interactions that used to happen in our actual community? Should we be worried? If so, please don't visit or phone us – leave your comments here or on our Facebook timeline and the best submissions will appear in the Friday print edition of The Globe and Mail.

This week's question: How do we enjoy the conveniences of modern technology without disconnecting from the people around us?

The experts:

Barry Wellman, S.D. Clark professor of sociology at the University of Toronto and co-author of Networked: The New Social Operating System

Every single bit of systematic evidence shows that social networking online is positively associated with social networking in person. The more people see each other in person, the more they use e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, etc., to stay in touch. Each is an extension of the other. They are not separate worlds – they are intertwined. A new norm has developed in which it is okay to text while being with others. It's a way of extending from the dinner table to include our friends and relatives around the world. But it has to be done with tact and sensitivity.

Kristy Davison, publisher and creative director of Alberta-based Highline Magazine and co-founder of Know Your Neighbour Night

In our community there is a huge demand for local, grassroots gatherings where people can get together in an old-school, neighbourly, block-party atmosphere. While modern technology, especially social media, is a tool to promote community gatherings such as our Know Your Neighbour Nights, online community simply cannot replace the kind of deep connections we see happening when people dance, high-five, hug, laugh and catch up with their neighbours.

Neil Seeman, CEO of the RIWI Corp. and senior resident at Massey College, University of Toronto

Thomas Edison's invention of the light bulb has been blamed for today's epidemic of sleep challenges, muddling our ancestors' family lives and interrupting couples' time together. Yet were it not for the light bulb, I wouldn't be able to read to our children at night. And so it is with social Web technologies today: young Internet users show a greater willingness to help their sick neighbours than older respondents, and some of the most active communities online are collaborative spaces where people with stigmatized illnesses, such as depression, can share stories of how to get help.

Ira Wagman, associate professor of communication studies, Carleton University

We have avoided connecting with others in lots of ways before the Internet, like reading the newspaper to avoid contact with people on the bus, or checking the score of the football game on TV during dinner, or even daydreaming while others are talking. So what is it about the nature of face-to-face communication that makes "checking out" so desirable?

Have your say in the comment section.

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Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

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