Family Unplugged: Life Without Technology
One dad unplugged his kids--and himself-- to discover that disconnecting his family is actually the best way to make a connection
Red. It's the color of love, of passion.It's also the color of the little blinking light on my BlackBerry.
Oh, blinky red light. Your allure is so magnetic. It doesn't matter if I'm at a traffic light, with my firstborn, Jackson, at the playground, or watching Tanner sing at his preschool graduation. That red light (paired with the titillating purr of a couple of vibrations) draws me in. Technology is my mistress.
Technology is also the medicine, the babysitter, the emergency contact. On numerous occasions, I've calmed a sibling squabble with a 50-milligram dose of Supah Ninjas. He-Man clips on YouTube have bought me extra minutes to meet a deadline. Then, of course, there was the time I got lost in the spaghetti-loop vortex of Disney World's highway system. There I was, an iPad open on my lap, stealing glances at MapQuest as I navigated through the Mouse Trap.
It's not only me, of course. Our collective whatever-ness about technology has become a smidge scary. Roughly one in five adults admits to poor mobile etiquette but continues the behavior because everyone else is doing it. Forty-two percent of children think their parents need to disconnect when they're at home. “iParents” (digitally connected moms and dads) are twice as likely as regular parents to neglect their responsibilities because they're on Facebook and Twitter, according to a study by Retrevo. And it's not just that we've all been there. We are there. The Disney World moment was a real wake-up call. I'm sure I would have made a smarter decision had the boys been in the car. (Right?) I need to rediscover undivided attention, eye contact, stillness, the nothings that happen between the somethings.
My whatever-ness is officially over. It's time to break up with the blinky red light.
Shawn Bean just met a modern dad who checks his e-mail at the public library.
William Powers's version of whatever-ness ended just before Labor Day 2007. At his family's home in Cape Cod, there were three sets of eyes, and three screens: His then 9-year-old son, William, was playing a game online, his wife, Martha Sherrill, was on a laptop doing research, and Powers was on his own computer. “We were exchanging silent glances,” recalls Powers. “That's when I realized something, anything, had to be done.”
That something, anything, was the Internet Sabbath: From bedtime on Friday to sunrise on Monday, all plugged-in devices (laptops, smartphones, etc.) were off-limits. If someone absolutely, positively had to get online, they could use one of the computers at the public library. It was this experience—and the lessons learned—that inform his book, Hamlet's BlackBerry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age.
I tell Powers about my plan: I'm taking my boys on a digital sabbatical. For five days, we'd forgo all technology. No Supah Ninjas. No YouTube. No MapQuest. No more trysts with the blinky red light.
“Expect that your house will feel slightly different,” he says. “You won't know exactly what to do. We also had to relearn the art of sustained conversation with eye contact.” (An interesting point. See how long your next parent-child conversation goes before a device interrupts. Technology has a wicked case of attention deficit disorder.)
One more thing: “You'll be shocked at the tics you've developed. You'll realize how often you reach for a tech fix.” Powers says the first two months “were a real struggle. There was unbelievable withdrawal. I can't lie—there were tears.”