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The Winter of our Disconnect

by Susan Maushart

When journalist and commentator Susan Maushart first decided to pull the plug on all electronic media at home, she realised her children would have sooner volunteered to go without food, water or hair products. At ages 14, 15 and 18, her daughters and son didn’t use media. They inhabited media. Just exactly as fish inhabit a pond. Gracefully. Unblinkingly. And utterly without consciousness or curiosity as to how they got there. Susan’s experiment with her family was a major success and she found that having less to communicate with, her family is communicating more.

At the simplest level, The Winter of Our Disconnect is the story of how one family survived six months of wandering through the desert, digitally speaking, and the lessons learned about themselves and technology along the way. At the same time, their story is a channel to a wider view – into the impact of new media on the lives of families, into the very heart of the meaning of home.

Shesaid sat down to ask author Susan Maushart a couple of questions:

1. The Winter of Disconnect explores a world without electronic media, do you consider the experiment has been a success?

Absolutely. I hoped that our time wandering through the desert (digitally
speaking) would bring us closer as a family. It did … but it also brought
about so many other positive changes in our lives. We read more, played more music, paid more attention to what we were putting in our bodies, slept more and were more creative in our use of free time. We cleared our heads. And the kids, interestingly, did better at school.

2. What damage, if any, do you think technology overload has on this
generation?

I love technology, personally. But I think when screen interactions become
our default mode – so that we socialize on Facebook, play music on
Guitar Hero, and experience intimacy via text messages – then we miss out on
more authentic kinds of connection. The biggest danger is not “seeing
choice”, not seeing that we can exercise deliberation and discrimination in
the ways we communicate. To a man with a hammer, they say, the whole world
looks like a nail. Which is why we need a really big toolbox.

3. Did you find day to day life easier or harder without mobiles/tv etc?

It was easier in many ways. Fewer choices – less anxiety about being “out of the loop” – better ability to focus without multitasking.

4. Do you think the tide will turn and technology will become less important or do you think it will get more entrenched in our daily life?

No, I don’t believe technology will become less important in our lives.
That’s exactly why it is so important to raise our consciousness about how we use it, and how it affects our habits and perceptions at a deep level.

5. Are we complicating our lives by trying to make them easier?

Often, yes! But you could say the same about agriculture as opposed to
hunting-gathering … or urban as opposed to traditional culture … or for
that matter democracy as opposed to dictatorship. Complication isn’t always a bad thing.

6. Are you worried that if the family returns with gusto to technology it was all for nothing with nothing learnt?

No, not at all. You can’t step in the same river twice, as Heraclitus
observed. No matter what, there is no going back to our unenlightened state.
Our lessons haunt us, even when we flaunt them. And that’s a good thing! My
son, now 17, put himself on a “Facebook fast” last week, for example. He found it was starting to interfere with his other choices in life again. On
Saturday he went out fishing instead. We all know now that, however great
technology is, you have to teach it who’s boss. You!

What do you think – could you live without technology? For how long?