Sunday, February 12, 2012

Technology vs. the Family - Where Do You Draw the Line? Part 2

Camping at The Spruces, outside Salt Lake City, UT

I recently read "The Winter of Our Disconnect," by Susan Maushart. This book chronicles the experiences of a very-wired family in Australia who went "screen-free" for several months.  That's right, folks, nothing with a screen was utilitzed in their home.  No computers, smartphones, ipods, televisions, etc.  Now, technology was allowed outside the home, so the kids could use the computers at the library for homework, or play video games at a friend's house, so they weren't completely cut-off from technology.  However, this family chose to free their home life from the chains of constant connected-ness, and the results were not only dramatic, but positive.

I thought I only needed to be aware of the lure technology is for my children, but as I read this book, I became more aware of the hold it has on me.  Specifically, I noticed the changes having a smartphone has made in my life.  I have only had one for a few months, and it has been a huge convenience to be able to check a map when we were lost, or to answer emails while I am waiting for one of my kids.  However,  I also noticed how hard it is for me to NOT check that phone when I am at dinner or in a conversation and I hear that little noise indicating a new message has come in.  Since when do I have trouble getting through dinner without wondering who sent me an email?  This book was an eye-opener, and is worth reading if for no other reason than it helps you observe what the effects of technology are on both you and your family.  What do you spend your time on now?  What did you used to spend it on?  The author found her son, who spent hours gaming with friends prior to their disconnect experiment, picked up his saxophone again and joined a jazz band.  Other members of the family wanted to renew their gym membership, and long neglected board games came out of storage and became a staple of family interaction.  If you disconnected your family, what could you do?  The possibilities are endless.

Playing games instead of gaming.

While writing her book, Susan Maushart read a large quantity of research on technology and the family.  She weaves her findings into her own observations of her family's experiences.  She writes about the myth of multitasking.  When her kids were "multitasking" and doing homework while listening to music and messaging their friends, they were in reality accomplishing almost nothing.  After the disconnect, Maushart writes "...I watched as my kids awoke slowly from the state of cognitus interruptus."   Maushart found in her research that although the idea that technology allows us to multitask has become prevalent, that is not the reality.  Researcher Clifford Nash set up a study to show the advantages of multitasking.  In Nass's own words, he sums up what he discovered--"multitaskers are just lousy at everything."  Maushart found that in reality, multitasking makes people worse at things instead of more productive.  Turning off the technology and tuning in to what we are doing, in other words, makes us more productive and successful.  So the next time your children tell you they can do their homework while doing several other things with their electronics, realize that their brain is switching rapidly between tasks, and not very well.

A non-electronic activity--making apple pie.

In an article entitled "Is Technology Fracturing Your Family", Dr. Gary Small writes about the many benefits of having regular family dinners, and also about the negative impact technology is having on those dinners, and family life in general.  He says "The potential negative impact of new technology on the brain depends on its content, duration, and context.  To a certain extent, I think that the opportunities for developing the brain's neural networks that control our face-to-face social skills--what many define as our humanity--are being lost or at least compromised, as families become more fractured."  Think about your family life, and ask yourself if technology is bringing you closer to or farther from the people you care about?"

Watching the waves

I have heard before that if you want your children to be creative, let them get bored.  In "The Winter of Our Disconnect" the author points out that boredom does not exist as a concept in every culture, and that it is actually a recent cultural concept in our society.  Boredom is almost a luxury, and our fear of it is unwarranted.  Maushart writes "...boredom--far from being an energy-sucking black hole to be avoided...has actually served to fuel human progress...."  It is healthy for all of us to disconnect enough each day to have some reflective time in which we might nurture our own creativity.

Susan Maushart has a great deal of humor about the whole experiment, and this book is a worthwhile and interesting read.  Be warned if you read her book, however, that you may see yourself in its pages.  As instant information and instant electronic gratification become more pervasive in our lives, it is worth thinking about how much is too much.  Could you disconnect?  For how long?  And would it be a wonderful experience, or would you go through withdrawal?  After reading this book, I want to make sure my family controls our technology instead of letting it control us!

Maushart concludes her book with her family's 11 commandments.  Her list includes such rules as "Thou shalt bring no media to thy dinner," and "Thou shalt keep thy bedroom a media-free zone."    What would your commandments be?  Where do you draw the line?

See my other post on technology and the family

1 comment:

  1. Wow, I am thinking maybe we should set some more strict guidelines on media use. I know I am probably as guilty as any, so it would good for me too.