Friday, April 05, 2013

review: THE WINTER OF OUR DISCONNECT by Susan Maushart

by Susan Maushart
Penguin: Tarcher
Released: January 25, 2011 (US)
Source: Bookstore
Page Count: 280

Rating: Really liked it!

The inspiring (and hilarious!) story of a family who discovered that the rewards of "unpligging" are more rich and varied than any cyber-reality could ever be.

For any parent who's ever IM-ed their child to the dinner table - or yanked the modem from its socket in a show of primal parental rage - this account of one family's self-imposed exile from the Information Age will leave you ROFLing with recognition. But it will also challenge you to take stock of your own family connections, to create a media ecology that encourages kids - and parents - to thrive.

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.

My Thoughts

I don't read nonfiction very often, but when I do it's books like these that I truly enjoy. Susan Maushart challenged her family to unplug for six months. Well, maybe challenged isn't the right word. At any rate, the results speak for themselves. I am honestly considering conducting a similar experiment for myself!

I came across this book while searching for sources for a brief essay on this quote by Aldous Huxley: "Technological progress has merely provided us with more efficient means for going backwards." Maushart's experiment has clearly proven this to be true. Her family had to relearn such basic activities as how to interact with each other, make plans in advance, and master boredom.

Boyfriend and I have argued quite extensively over how we would raise our [very much theoretical] children, and screen time is our most common sticking point. I don't believe that children, especially those not yet in school, need to be watching TV or playing video games. But Boyfriend (and his siblings, all of whom are parents) insist that I will change my mind to placate a screaming two-year-old. Are we really to the point that we would rather give in to a temper tantrum than assert parental control, especially when studies have shown that this definitively affects cognitive ability? If so, that's just sad. I also feel that giving kids expensive toys at such an early age simply reinforces the ideas that (a) they are entitled to such toys and (b) losing or damaging them is no big deal, since Mommy and Daddy can easily replace them - neither of which is true.

Anyway, back to the book. My only issue was that Maushart seemed to talk more about studies than her own family. My favorite parts of this book were the excerpts from Maushart's daily journal, and they were too few and far between for my liking. That said, it was nice to have all of these studies and books mashed up in one place, and I will definitely be digging through the Notes and Recommended Reading sections at the end of the book for more reading material on this subject. Considering what I've observed in other families, including my extended family, I don't doubt that this issue will continue to be important and hotly debated.

If you choose to read this book, consider going over the reading guide, available here.

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