Kicking the electronic addiction

If I had a dime for every time I’ve said to my kids “Can you please look up from your screen and give this the attention it deserves,” I’d be a wealthy woman. We’re all familiar with the electronic intruders that have taken over our lives. The influencers that mesmerize and hypnotize. The formidable opponents we continue to fight against. As adults, we are not innocent either.

And so as 2012 draws to a close and I contemplate goals and resolutions for the start of a fresh year, I vow to become more aware of what I am modelling. I vow to put my laptop aside and to focus less on screens and more on faces. I vow to let emails wait a little longer before responding so that I can give my children the attention I am asking from them, and to not be slave to my Blackberry.

A couple of weeks ago, in preparation for this, and as we approached time off work and school, I proposed a challenge and an opportunity to my family over Christmas and Boxing Day. I suggested that we take a two day hiatus from all personal electronic devices – laptops, iPads, iPods, cell phones and video games. Everyone agreed. I think the kids saw it as more of a challenge than an opportunity, but I didn’t mind why they agreed to it. I was just happy they did.

Since we don’t celebrate Christmas, we weren’t obliged to follow any particular tradition. So, this was precedent setting. As our start time of 7pm on Christmas Eve approached, I changed my bbm status to alert my friends that I would be turning off for a couple of days. I responded to pending emails, completed work on unfinished word documents and then pulled the plug. So as to resist my Pavlovian response to the red flashing light on my Blackberry, I purposely placed my cell phone face down on the dining room table. Then we lined our laptops and other hand held devices alongside each other on the same table – a symbol of our commitment to see this through together.

Immediately, I felt a sense of peace and calm. It felt good knowing that we would not be distracted by any electronic device for a couple of days. We enjoyed dinner together free of any interruptions and then pulled out a game we had recently been given as a gift – LOGO. The focus was on the game and each other. I felt a sense of connectedness and enjoyment at such a simple pleasure. After the game, we watched a movie on TV while sharing popcorn. When it was time for bed, the kids had their lights out much quicker than usual. The familiar glare of an electronic screen was gone. There was nothing to keep them mesmerized and cross eyed into the wee hours of the morning. We all slept well.

Day one of remaining unplugged and we woke to the smell of waffles from the kitchen. My husband, who often enjoys starting his day with a coffee and games on his iPad, was looking for something creative to do. In his quest, he stumbled upon the waffle maker tucked away in the workshop area. The aroma of freshly make chocolate chip waffles wafted upstairs and we hurried down to enjoy them while they were still fresh and hot.

A discussion about this being an opportunity to organize neglected areas of our home arose and once again, with no electronic distractions, the kids and my husband were open to this. It was so refreshing to see everyone engaged and involved, working together as a team. At certain points during the day, I was thrilled to see family members reading a book or chatting with one another. Everyone seemed more relaxed, less frustrated. I didn’t have to nag as much to get things done. I found everyone more willing and able to hear one another rather than being disengaged or immersed in his or her own world. Later we played Catopoly – a variation of Monopoly. I won! We ate more popcorn, watched another movie on TV, talked at length as a family about the pros and cons of Chloe purchasing a television for her bedroom.

On the second night of our challenge, we found Chloe sneaking a peek on her Facebook account at a friend’s house, on his computer. Her sister was mad as hell, saying that she had broken her commitment to our family but Chloe begged forgiveness, saying that hers was a temporary moment of weakness.

Day two and the kids were getting edgy and going through withdrawal. Since Chloe was going to sleep overnight at a friend out of town, and I wanted her to be in touch when she got to her destination, we decided to end our no electronic device agreement a little earlier than planned.

Despite their eagerness (and ours) to check emails, catch up on new posts and twitter comments and to get back into the virtually real world, we agreed that for the most part, our 40 hours of not being plugged into our devices had allowed us to be more plugged into one another. It had given us time to bond, to be free of a big distraction, to be more productive and to enjoy simple pleasures together. Granted – like any addiction, this was difficult at times. We had to resist succumbing to urges and had to find ways to distract ourselves, but it was certainly worth it.

Unfortunately it didn’t take long before we were all off in our own little worlds again, communicating silently with invisible friends. Now, like a reformed smoker, I especially abhor the intruder that so easily captivates and captures us away from one another.

One of my goals for 2013 is to work with my family at overcoming the powerful pull of electronic devices and to make more time for one another. I encourage yours to embrace this opportunity too.