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LL Cool J on being a 'Tethered Soul'

The actor, rapper and entrepreneur isn't addicted to his gadgets -- just don't take away his Internet access.

LL Cool J is someone who knows how to balance his digital and real lives.
Celso Bulgatti/CNET

LL Cool J, which stands for Ladies Love Cool James (he was born James Todd Smith), is surrounded by technology.

Sophisticated investigative tools have a starring role on his show, "NCIS: Los Angeles" (which airs on CBS, CNET's parent company). He's rarely without an Android-based smartphone -- as long as it isn't cracked or broken. (Most recently it's a Samsung Galaxy S4.) He started Boomdizzle, a social music website turned collaborative virtual studio.

And while the 46-year-old hip-hop artist and actor admits he enjoys having instant access to the world's knowledge online and likes checking Rouse Social to keep tabs on what's happening, he still remembers when we got our daily updates from newspapers, and when phone calls and actual mail were the primary communication forms.

LL Cool J shared his perspective on our growing need to stay connected, the next generation's shifting tech-influenced social mores, and why he thinks Albert Einstein's take on technology remains prescient.

Here are edited excerpts from his conversations with Roger Cheng, CNET News Executive Editor, and Connie Guglielmo, CNET News Editor-in-Chief.

Do you ever feel withdrawal when you're without your phone or access to your connected devices?
When I'm on a plane, I'm looking for (Wi-Fi). I like to keep my phone rolling. I guess there are some addictive qualities. I know I said I'm not an addict, but I definitely go all out to maintain my connection.

We are tethered souls.

What do you like about your tech?
I like to use the technology to my advantage and sharpen my mind because I have access at the press of a button to anything I want to know.

There's this phenomenon of people living more of their lives virtually than in the real world.
Einstein had a quote about technology once it reaches a certain point (pauses to look it up on his phone). The quote: "I fear the day technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots."

It's interesting what he was saying. How many people really remember phone numbers anymore? How many phone numbers do you know? You know your childhood phone numbers probably. But how many kids in this generation know their phone numbers, their friends numbers?...On some levels we've gotten smarter, and on some levels we've gotten lazier.

What do you think about wearables as a new way to stay connected?
I'm as connected right now as I feel I need to be. I don't need the next level of connectivity. I have search engines at my disposal.

If you're staying connected, how do you do it in a thoughtful, respectful way?
We have to look at it objectively. The reality is people go to dinner and look at their phones. At certain times, people are staring at their phone more than they're interacting with each other.

You're going to have a generation that is used to that interaction. That type of interaction will feel as natural to them as another generation having a cup of coffee. It's all about what you're accustomed to. It determines how you feel about it. People can express themselves in different ways. Values do change.

So what's your advice to people trying to figure out how to find tech balance?
I would just encourage people to make sure they use...this technology and this access we have to all of the world's knowledge to their benefit. Don't live your life using technology or social media as a big gossip column -- actually improve yourself.

A version of this story appears in the CNET Magazine. See more great stories from CNET Magazine.

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