Weekend Australian Magazine columnist Maushart (What Women Want Now, 2007, etc.) examines what happened when she and her three teenaged children went on a six-month hiatus from the digital world.
The author includes a telling story about two little girls trapped in a storm drain. The first thing they did? “They updated their Facebook status, of course.” Maushart worried that she and her children were becoming trapped within the digital world, estranged from the real world and from each other. She had grown skeptical of the claim that the new media was somehow improving their lives. And so began “The Winter of Our Disconnect,” six months without computers (laptop and otherwise), iPods, iPhones, texting, video games, Facebook, e-mail or TV—a “screen-free adventure.” Though she and her children were initially excited about the adventure, resentment and resistance soon followed. Maushart hated having to write her newspaper column by hand; Sussy, the youngest, lamented that “I can’t go for walks ’cause I don’t have my iPod.” Over time, however, their self-imposed digital detox changed them for the better; boredom led to discovery of each other and of the world around them. The family room was no longer a series of separate docking stations, but a place where the family actually gathered. Family meals, and conversation, replaced hurried bites between digital fixes. Bill, freed from endless entrapment in video games, resurrected his love for music and excelled on the saxophone. Sussy discovered sleep, freed from the “need” to update her status at four in the morning. Rather than multitask, and aimlessly Google from one bit of information to the next, the kids read. They had discovered, as Maushart writes, “a renewed sense of agency.” The author narrates her story in a breezy, irreverent style, but beneath the humor is much wisdom about what our wired world does for us and to us.
No Luddite diatribe, but an insightful tale of the digital dilemmas familiar to many families.