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The Online Mom provides internet technology advice and information to help parents protect their kids, encourage responsible behavior and safely harness the power of technology in the new digital world. Social networking, photo sharing, video games, IM & texting, internet security, cyberbullying, educational resources, the latest on tech hardware, gadgets and software for kids 3-8, tweens and teens, and more.

Unplugging from technology



By Paul O’Reilly

I don’t know about you, but I am becoming a little weary of reading about individuals or families that decide to “unplug” from technology. It’s certainly not a new idea, but each time a fresh tale of self-imposed digital exile emerges, reporters and other commentators greet it with wide-eyed amazement, as if a few months without an iPhone is akin to being trapped in a collapsed Chilean mine.

The latest offering is from Susan Maushart, a single mother of three who lives in Perth, Australia. Her book, titled The Winter of Our Disconnect, describes how her family was so distracted by digital technology that they rarely communicated, and then only via "textspeak." She then made the highly unpopular decision (among her kids, anyway) to cut the cord on technology.

Out went the smartphones, computers, video games, iPods, and TVs; and back came a forgotten world of talking, laughter, and even “looking into each other’s eyes.”

Of course, there is a limit to how much technology they were prepared to give up. There was still the house phone and the family car (the book doesn’t say whether they were allowed to listen to the radio while driving), and I’m sure all the essential appliances like the refrigerator, washing machine, and air conditioning system were purring along as usual.

But wait a minute, I hear you say, that technology is OK. It’s digital media that’s the problem – all that texting, web surfing, and time spent on Facebook!

But that’s the point – when it comes to technology, where do you draw the line? Is texting among teens inherently worse than the two-hour phone calls we used to have with our friends when we were kids? Is playing a Professor Layton video game really that much worse than playing Monopoly or Clue? Is using a Kindle really less worthy than reading a hard-backed book?

It’s not the technology, it’s how you use it. If Ms. Maushart and her family had to go cold turkey to break themselves of some of their worst digital habits, then perhaps we should feel sorry for them rather than laud their “achievement.” Fortunately, most families don’t have that problem. They use technology the way it was intended to be used, recognizing that we are now in the Information Age rather than the Stone Age.

All these tales of rediscovery, of families finding true enjoyment through books and board games, have one thing in common: they all end with the family giving up the experiment and going back to the same technology that they previously decried.

While the authors of these stories invariably claim that the self-imposed exile was an unqualified success and “changed their lives forever,” I suspect there was more than a sigh of relief when the TV came back to life and the iPhone started to vibrate again. There’s only one thing worse than a life full of digital media – and that’s a life without it!

Could your family disconnect from digital media for six months? Would you want to? Share your thoughts with The Online Mom!

Follow Paul on Twitter @TheTechDad



Comments:
Comment by Shane Powell, posted 2/1/2011, 2:28 PM:

I know we couldn't make it for six months. Nor would we want to. But for those that are feeling the need for a board game to replace a video game consider a multi player game. That takes us into their world instead of asking them to come back to ours. Also boundaries of when texting and hand held games are allowed are important. If started from the beginning it doesn't become as much of an issue as if you wait for it to become a problem to deal with it. All things in moderation.
Comment by ellen, posted 2/1/2011, 12:24 AM:

I dont think we would have much of a problem. I would miss the computer of course, but the cellphone/games etc arent even an issue.
Comment by Suzanne Shaffer, posted 2/1/2011, 9:37 AM:

I would like to think we could, but I'm realistic to know it would be impossible, especially since my business is completely run online. Could they turn off the TV? Absolutely not. It wouldn't be too hard to give up the cellphone and texting, but disconnecting from all digital media would be an impossibility.
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