THE WINTER OF OUR DISCONNECT
Technology has had an indelible impact on our lives. We’re more connected than ever, but at what cost? In THE WINTER OF OUR DISCONNECT: How Three Totally Wired Teenagers (And a Mother Who Sleeps with Her iPhone) Pulled the Plug on their Technology and Lived to Tell the Tale, Maushart takes a page from Ralph Waldo Emerson and institutes The Experiment—six months of screen-free living. The result: her family survived – and even thrived – without their TVs, ipods and computers. They also came to realize how all-consuming these digital devices could be.
1. In The Winter of Our Disconnect, Maushart argues that the technology explosion has impacted family life more than we realize and that many of these changes have happened in the “proverbial heartbeat.” How has technology changed the way your family interacts? Have those changes been for the better or worse?
2. During Maushart’s Experiment, she allows her kids to use computers and electronic devices outside of the home, admitting that she couldn’t find a way around it. Do you feel that she should have gone further and denied her kids any use of digital technology?
3. The two main issues that other adults brought up when they heard of The Experiment were: How will someone get a hold of you in an emergency, and how will your kids do their homework? In this day in age, is it even possible to live productively for six months without access to technology?
4. Boredom is a big issue for Maushart’s family when they first go cold turkey and turn off everything – including their electricity – as a precursor to The Experiment. Maushart discusses the modern notion that boredom is bad and that it has become a parent’s duty to keep their children from being bored. Do you agree that parents today feel more obligated than ever before to keep their kids stimulated and entertained? If so, what do you think has brought about this change?
5. Maushart also declares that there exists today what she dubs a “Digital Bill of Rights,” an unwritten rule that parents must grant their children access to all things digital (computers, television, mp3 players, smarthphones, etc). Do you feel this is true? And is it, as Maushart says, parents themselves who have “ratified” or reinforced this notion?
6. Midway through The Experiment, Maushart’s son rediscovers his love of the saxophone and wonders aloud how amazing he’d be with the instrument now if he took back all of the hours spent on his gaming computer and used them for practice instead. Maushart writes: “Pretending that the same thought hadn’t occurred to me twelve thousand times was one of the toughest tests I’ve ever faced as a parent.” Have you had similar thoughts about your kids? Are there activities that you yourself might be engaged in if you didn’t have access to TV or computers at home?
7. Attention Deficit Disorder has been on the rise over the past decade, and the improved attention spans Maushart observes in her kids as a result of The Experiment indicates that technology may be partly to blame. Do you think technology causes or contributes to attention problems? Have you seen this in your own kids?
8. Maushart’s youngest teen is the most consumed by technology – to the point where the 24/7 call of social networking often leads her to get little to no sleep. Once Maushart comes to this realization toward the end of The Experiment (when her daughter’s sleep begins to regulate and her attitude improve in the absence of technology), she opts to pull the plug on her daughter’s Internet connection each night, even post-Experiment, to help her daughter stay on track. Is this something you’ve done with your own children or would consider doing to help them unplug? Have you tried any other ways to limit your kids’ use of technology?
9. Can you see yourself implementing something similar to The Experiment in your home? How would your kids react?
10. One of the biggest upsides to Maushart’s Experiment is that it raises her kids’ awareness of how technology impacts their lives. Can you think of other ways to get your kids to come to this realization?