One Hour Without Technology

It went badly.

I told all family members that for one hour on this Sunday afternoon they had to turn off their phones, computers, television sets at 3:15 pm. They could do anything they wanted — nap, eat, clean, anything.

At 3:15, they begged for, “Five more minutes. Just until I finish this episode.”

Hayden’s hooked on reruns of Prison Break and the girls on How I Met Your Mother. So I relented. At 3:20, I collected their phones and laptops and put them in a sealed, secret box.

My husband (who may have some OCD tendencies) began counting playing cards to get a Gin Rummy game going. The girls began to clean their room. So far, so good. Then my son began foraging in the fridge for something to eat and came up short. It’s true we’ve been gone a few days and the cupboards are pretty bare.

“You can go grocery shopping,” I suggested.

“No,” he said, flopping on my bed. “I’m hungry.” I began making him some frozen Trader Joe appetizer thing, left-overs from a party months ago.

“Mom, I have to turn on the computer to check what homework I have,” my son said.

“No,” I said.

“I think he should be allowed to do that,” my husband piped in.

“No,” I was not going to give in. “He knows he has to read the Odyssey. Just crack the book open.”

at the airport yesterday, my kids were all plugged in.

“I already read it,” he said.

“Then do something else,” I said.

“You’re such a jerk,” he said. Nice, right?

“You’re not allowed to call me a jerk. Or say I’m crazy,” I said. Last week, he called me crazy. Yes, I’m crazy. But a good kind of crazy. And that’s not what he meant.

Then the girls started bickering about a shirt they both claimed. And Charlotte was goading Catherine to quit lying on the floor.

Charlotte was exasperated. She said, “I’m the only one who does anything around here.”

And that naturally, got me yelling. Because that’s my line. I’m the only one who does anything around here.

My husband asked, “Who wants to play cards?”

“Not me!” the kids said.

“Get up off the floor,” Charlotte told Catherine.

“I’m hungry, Mom,” Hayden said.

I tried to keep it together by remembering the article on sibling rivalry from today’s NYTimes by George Howe Colt. He points out that when kids argue over food maybe what they’re really arguing over is mother’s attention.

That idea that mothers are powerful got me through the awful hour without technology. The other realization that pulled me through was knowing our social media sabbath was only going to last another 15 minutes. I served the kids that appetizer-y thing. People calmed down.

At 4:20, I went into the secret box and handed them back their phones and laptops. Okay, I didn’t hand them back. I threw them back. I said, “Here you go! Now we don’t have to talk to each other any more today.”

But we did talk later — at dinner. I suggested that we try this brief digital sabbath every week. They didn’t argue.


Fun Without Screens

This is not my son, but looks exactly like my son.

In the spring I took away the kids’ privilege of screens and social media from Monday to Thursday nights.

School’s starting the day after Labor Day and I want to remind the kids (and myself) that real life exists beyond the computer, Xbox, Facebook, instant messaging, and texting.

Here’s how you can have fun without screens.

  1. Shop (in real stores, not on-line)
  2. Read books
  3. Give or get a manicure/pedicure
  4. Play board games
  5. Play cards
  6. Work out
  7. Do jigsaw puzzles
  8. Play basketball in Riverside Park
  9. Go for a walk, even around the block
  10. Do a splatter art project (like Jackson Pollock)
  11. Make a collage from magazines
  12. Make a scrapbook page
  13. Talk on the phone to Chicago cousins
  14. Sit on a stoop with a friend
  15. Go to the school yard
  16. Nap
  17. Bake cookies or brownies
  18. Take a bath
  19. Go swimming at the JCC
  20. Redecorate, move furniture around
  21. Practice gymnastics in the field
  22. Read comic books
  23. Make up a dance
  24. Sing
  25. Simply be awesome


Yesterday I grabbed a newspaper off my desk to read while waiting for the Riverside bus home. I found the cover story, “Unplugged: Tech sabbath strengthens connection to God,” very interesting, because I frequently contemplate and write about How much connectedness do we really need? And then I found the article extremely interesting and surprising and yes, smart, because I was quoted in it.

I loved this article written by Mary Jacobs for the The United Methodist Reporter, especially upon seeing my own name. I thought, wow, I’m an expert and I’m quotable. I kept reading the article hoping I might be quoted again. But I was not. Still, I was excited.

As soon as I walked in the door I bragged to my son, “Hey, I’m quoted in a newspaper article.”

“What did you say?” he asked. So I read him my quotable quote:

Mr. Burton-Edwards thinks multi-tasking can fragment the spirit and soul, too. Constant interruptions affect our ability “to be attentive to people, and to be in the moment,” he says. “They wreak havoc on our focus.”

Mary Beth Coudal, a staff writer for the General Board of Global Ministries, has seen that in herself.

“Social media has contributed to my short attention span,” she writes in a blog. “I’m beginning to wonder if this constant social media chatter is drowning out my ability to listen to the ‘still, small voice of God.’” She cited a co-worker who called the constant digital distraction “a traffic jam in my mind.”

My son was unimpressed. In fact, he was dismissive, “You sound like a religious freak. Like a crazy killer obsessed with God who hears voices.” I was amused AND offended.

I was taking a hiatus from blogging, but seeing my name in a newspaper article reinvigorated my commitment to my daily blog postings, including this one, dedicated to the Connected Life.

When you’re quoted once, you want to be quoted again.