My book club just finished reading The Winter of Our Disconnect: How Three Totally Wired Teenagers (and a Mother Who Slept with Her iPhone) Pulled the Plug on Their Technology and Lived to Tell the Tale by Susan Maushart. I am hopeful that I'm forever changed. I loved this book so much. It stretched my knowledge on media, challenged me to take a hard look at my own use of screens, and made me determined to guide my children well through these same waters when their time comes.
Basically the book is about a journalist who kicks all technology (television, tablets, cell phones, computers, internet) out of her house. She and her three teenagers spend a lot of time cooking, visiting, reading and sleeping during their six month fast.
Mixed in with her personal experience, she presents a ton of research on the topic of technology-- phone use, television exposure, and the like. She presents it in a very readable way, and I can't tell you how many pages I marked or underlined in my copy of the book.
First off, it makes me want to read Thoreou's Walden Pond, which inspired her journey.
Second, I want to re-approach my life with Monotasking (or uni-tasking) as my goal. All the studies show that no one (seriously. no one.) does multi-tasking well (which I found offensive because I was sure that I was good at it) and I want to work harder to be in the moment I'm in, not scroll through my phone in an effort to avoid it.
Maushart also talks about our inability to read anything deep or lengthy. I find this to be totally true of myself. Getting started on a really large or challenging book, or truly reading (and comprehending) a long article are far more challenging to me than they used to be. I think this is because our screens now spoon-feed us our information. We don't have to work as hard as we used to.
Along those same lines, she presents the argument that we are raising currently a generation that is used to getting what they want when they want it with minimal effort. I myself am entirely guilty. I wait in line furiously tapping my foot as I wait my turn. I pull through the drive through, irritated that it takes eight minutes to get my meal. I roll my eyes and groan when my Facebook page doesn't pull up instantaneously on my laptop when I click the icon. The list goes on. We have become an impatient generation.
We're also, despite all the connectivity, a really disconnected generation. It seems the more we "connect" online, the less connected we actually are. Studies have shown it. And my life is proof. Despite the fact that I had: Facebook, email, Skype and my blog to stay connected to my loved ones while I was in rural Alaska, I ended up anxious and depressed, suffering from feelings of loneliness. Nothing is the same as face time.
Which is exactly what Sharon Turkle, TED Speaker, says. How do we rectify these disconnected connections? It is as simple as making real conversations a priority again, she assures us, and making some areas technology free. The areas I'm choosing are: Meal time, homeschool time and bedtime. I believe that by making these areas phone & TV free, the boys will know that they are my top priority. Not having it at the table during homeschool should be easy. Same with bedtime. But leaving the phone upstairs during meal times? That one's going to be a challenge. But with that, I think some real connecting will start going on, and that will make it worth it.
Another important point that Maushart makes in her book is that boredom is self diagnosed, first of all, and not actually bad for you, second of all. It's not my job to be an activity coordinator. Yet if I eliminate screens, that's exactly what ends up happening. From the book I learned that kids LOVING the screens, and claiming they gain true happiness from them, doesn't mean they are good for them. In fact, they're bad for them. And a little boredom? Might actually do them some good. Might promote some creativity.
So then, with all this information, what is the answer? Be choosier about friends on Facebook or Instagram? Get rid of everything? Become a tech tyrant and berate all your friends and family into joining you on a six month break from all things with screens?
I tend to be black & white thinker, but when it comes to technology we really must look at it in shades of gray because it can enhance our lives (like online bill pay, FaceTime when your husband is 2500 miles away, or ordering groceries when you live in rural Alaska...) but it can also hurt us (ie cause us to ignore people, lack human connection & waste valuable time).
I think for me, the first answer is: Awareness. Just being aware that cell phones, tablets and televisions can put distance between people is a start. Just being aware that real conversations are important and people need to feel heard is a start. The second answer is: Be Choosy. With three kids, and another on the way, I need to be choosy about where I spend my time online. And the third, as I mentioned above is: Put It Away. There needs to be times when I'm unavailable. It's good for my psyche. And it shows my kids that they are more important than my 8th grade best friends' Facebook status update.
In it, the author says, "You need to suppress your empathy "gene" in order to participate fully in the mobile revolution." I feel this so fully. And I have so many times felt "half listened" to and ignored by other people on their phones. And, if we're being honest, I've also been the one "half listening" at times...
We don't have rules or etiquette. There's no way to say to someone, "Dude, can you put that away? You're making me feel small and unimportant." But that's what we want to say! We want to be more important than Facebook or that text from someone else.
So what should the rules be? When you're with another human being, put your phone away, not on the table between you. When you have a chance for real interaction with other people, let yourself be fully immersed in it. It's the only way to fully live your life.
As my friend Ashley said,
"Screens shouldn't become an escape from reality, but should compliment reality."
I couldn't have said it better myself.