I realise the irony; blogging about switching off. I should probably be writing in a notebook with a pen, but hey, blogging is the best way I know of talking about something interesting to other people who might be interested.
So, I recently read a book called The Winter of our Disconnect. It’s about an American/Aussie mum and three teenagers who switch off their screens for six months. There were loopholes allowed, like cinema visits and internet cafes, but at home, they had no screens at all, and only corded phones.
I was an early adopter of the internet, had it at home in 1994. But I was an adopter, an adult when I became acquainted. Children growing up today see the internet as essential as television, they were born in the land of the internet. It’s as natural to them as breathing. And it worries me a bit, it’s all happened so fast, how do we know it’ll be OK?
It reminds me a bit of TV in South East Asia. When we stayed in a village in Borneo, they’d only had electricity, and therefore TV, for four years. They asked if our kids would like to watch TV and we said yes please, because our kids are always happy to watch TV. They put on an inappropriately violent war film, which I switched off at the soonest opportunity, even though their four year old and one year old were watching quite happily.
A while later, I had a conversation with an American living in Luang Prabang, Laos. She said that the speed of progress was a massive issue. Parents who had grown up without electricity, not only had no idea how to manage their children’s media usage, they simply didn’t know that you should keep an eye on these things. All kinds of problems are potentially being stored up for the near future.
Maybe I’m digressing. But the point is, it feels like too much too fast. iPhones, iPads, kids with laptops, texting, iMessaging, BBMing. Constant contact without real connection. I’m the first person to admit to loving the internet, but switching off sounds more and more appealing, however wedded to my phone I am.
So what did they discover, these Aussies who switched off? None of it was rocket science, but all of it had me nodding in recognition. First up – multitasking is rubbish. We all like to think that we can work productively whilst listening to the radio, checking twitter every minute, liking pictures on FB and texting a friend. We can’t. We are far more productive if we concentrate on one thing at a time. During the six month period, the author’s kids, who are bright kids and were doing fine, did much better at school, their concentration levels improved and so did their grades.
Secondly, the children, particularly the youngest who was 14 at the time, slept much better. With screens removed from bedrooms, their quality and quantity of sleep dramatically improved. The author reckons that her youngest daughter had been sleep deprived for years and she finally caught up.
Thirdly, they had time. Time to rekindle old friendships, time to become proficient musicians, time to read. The author’s sixteen year old son, whose leisure time had previously been entirely given over to online gaming, became a bookworm, who was delighted to receive a library of books for his birthday.
That’s it really, like I said, not rocket science. I’m no luddite, but I can’t help thinking that the all pervasiveness of modern technology isn’t always a good thing. My gut instincts tell me that less is more.