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Video: ‘Tech diet’ helps families curb digital hunger

  1. Closed captioning of: ‘Tech diet’ helps families curb digital hunger

    >>> back now at 8:09. this morning on "today's tech," going cold turkey . it is estimated kids now spend 53 hours a week online. now some parents are saying enough is enough. in a moment you will meet one family who pulled the plug on technology for six months. but first here's nbc's janet shamlian .

    >> really?

    >> reporter: really. our obsession with technology now so out of control even the smartphone makers are poking fun at us.

    >> really?

    >> reporter: experts say we have become so attached to our devices we may be disconnecting from each other.

    >> i don't think the solution is to get rid of technology , but rather to put yourself in charge of it.

    >> reporter: diane knew it was time to unplug when dinnertime became tech time.

    >> he would be in the office on the computer, anika would be on my laptop and jasmine in the extra bedroom on the stand-up.

    >> reporter: that's when she put her family on an extreme diet of technology . what's been called a tech cleanse.

    >> there was no lead time . there was no deliberation, no discussion. of course i immediately thought, she's lost her mind.

    >> reporter: computers, phone and other electronics were allowed only for business and homework.

    >> we did puzzles, board games , read books.

    >> can you give me the phone back?

    >> reporter: our obsession with electronics starts early. it can take hold even before they graduate to the big boy swings.

    >> he knows how to open his favorite apps.

    >> reporter: a study found 19% of kids aged 2 to 5 can operate a smartphone application but only 9% can tie their shoes. when to unplug and for how long? at the broadneck home the fast lasted only five days before everyone was, again, hungry for technology .

    >> i asked my husband, do you want to go the weekend? he said, no, i'm done on friday.

    >> reporter: but the les tosons learned, an invaluable reminder.

    >> it's good to take a breath from the television, computer, smartphone and do things together.

    >> reporter: unplugging for better communication. for "today," janet shamlian , nbc news, houston.

    >> one family stopped using technology for six months. susan wrote about the experience in "the winter of our disconnect" how three totally wired teenagers and a mother who slept with her iphone pulled the plug on technology and lived to tell the tale. good morning to you all.

    >> good morning.

    >> susan, your children didn't just use media, they inhabited media. what did you mean?

    >> just that media was the water in which they swam. it was the bubble that they drew breath from. you know, just because the fish doesn't know it's swimming in water my children didn't realize, i don't think, that there was an r.l., as my son would call it, a real life and a screen life. the two were all mixed up.

    >> you also said technology wasn't tearing up the family as much as it was quietly eroding it.

    >> that's right. i think that low level of distraction constantly sort of siphoning information and entertainment at that level. it wasn't like -- it wasn't hugely dramatic. in some ways it was the opposite of dramatic. we were thinking about how the house had become so quiet. when the kids were younger before the technology hit, our house was a boisterous, noisy place. after a while it started to sound like an icu.

    >> what was the breaking point? at what point did you say, i'm going to do this?

    >> i think it was a day i came home and as was typical all i could see was the back of my kiki ki kids' heads. said, hi everybody. i posed a rhetorical question. i said, you know, what would our lives be like without all this stuff? and there was no answer at all. they had their earbuds in and couldn't ma couldn't hear me. that was my moment. my son responded without turning around from the game. he was busy shooting people . he said, our lives would be boring, mom. i thought, our lives are boring now!

    >> why not make the change?

    >> we need a way forward .

    >> so your mom says to you, first you had no electricity for a couple weeks. then you get that back and then nothing with a screen. no iphone, ipod, if you want to use the computer you have to go outside the house to do so. what was your initial reaction?

    >> she always comes up with ideas and no one really -- she doesn't follow through with. this seemed crazy. didn't seem possible.

    >> was it like a you're grounded for life scenario. she thought, oh, there's mom being mom. but little did they know, this time i was serious.

    >> i want to talk to anni via skype which you couldn't have done at home during those six months. i heard your mom bribed you.

    >> we heard through a friend of the family that knew about it and accidentally let it slip. i said, it's going to be six months without technology . we're like, what? what do you mean? so we were like, mo way, mom. absolutely no way are we doing that. yeah, she had to bribe us a little bit.

    >> so what happened over the course of the six months? what did you discover?

    >> well, we discovered the lost art of eye contact, conversation. i mean, as annie said at one point it's like we woke up and thought, there are people here in our house. let's talk to them. the kids started hanging out in one another's bedroom again. they picked up books. my son started playing lego the first morning. a 6'0" tall 13-year-old.

    >> your son picked up the saxaphone.

    >> he did.

    >> so something he put to the side.

    >> he burrowed in the closet and there was the saxaphone he hadn't played in two years. he started channelling the hours a day that he had spent gaming into the saxaphone.

    >> was it worth it to you?

    >> yes. it was.

    >> it's really interesting and it's nice to know you can go without it. i wouldn't want to do it again.

    >> you wouldn't?

    >> i think i would do it again when i was older but not in high school .

    >> the message isn't to dump technology ?

    >> not at all. i'm the furthest thing from a ludite you can imagine. we have to make choices about technology and put boundaries in place. if we don't, it will overtake us.

    >> you did let the kids use technology and you wrote your column outside your home. you needed a computer, so didn't that defeat the purpose?

    >> not at all. i was interested in our family dynamics. i was interested in what would happen if our home was kind of a haven, like a refuge from all that information and all the pinging and alerts. so, no. it wasn't about deprivation although my kids may disagree. it wasn't primarily about deprivation at all.

    >> so you survived the six months and you have learned a little bit about yourself and as a family.

    >> she got so much sleep.

    >> that's a benefit. so you're a nicer kid, right?

    >> she is. i have to say.

    >> thank you so much. the book is called "the winter of our disconnect." up next,

TODAY books
updated 1/25/2011 3:50:57 PM ET 2011-01-25T20:50:57

Overwhelmed by the tireless presence of electronic media in both her own life and the lives of her three teenagers, Susan Maushart made the unpopular decision to cut the cord, so to speak, transforming her family into a gaggle of reluctant Luddites in a digital world. What started as simply a challenging experiment ended up completely changing the way she and her kids related to each other. Here’s an excerpt.

Raising three teenagers as a single parent is no Contiki cruise at the best of times. But when I decided we should all set sail for a six-month screen-free adventure, it suddenly came closer to "The Caine Mutiny," with me in the Bogart role.

There were lots of reasons why we pulled the plug on our electronic media ... or, I should say, why I did, because heaven knows my children would have sooner volunteered to go without food, water, or hair products. At ages fourteen, fifteen, and eighteen, my daughters and my son don’t use media. They inhabit media. And they do so exactly as fish inhabit a pond. Gracefully. Unblinkingly. And utterly without consciousness or curiosity as to how they got there.

Discuss: Would your family unplug for six months?

They don’t remember a time before e-mail, or instant messaging, or Google. Even the media of their own childhood — VHS and dial-up, Nintendo 64 and “cordful” phones — they regard as relics, as quaint as inkwells. They collectively refer to civilization pre–high-definition flat screen as “the black and white days.”

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My kids — like yours, I’m guessing — are part of a generation that cut its teeth, literally and figuratively, on a keyboard, learning to say “’puter” along with “Mama,” “juice,” and “Now!” They’re kids who’ve had cell phones and wireless Internet longer than they’ve had molars. Who multitask their schoolwork alongside five or six other electronic inputs, to the syncopated beat of the Instant Messenger pulsing insistently like some distant tribal tom-tom.

Wait a minute. Did I say they do their schoolwork like that? Correction. They do their life like that.

When my children laugh, they don’t say “ha ha.” They say “LOL.” In fact, they conjugate it. (“LOL at this picture before I Photoshopped your nose, Mom!”) They download movies and TV shows as casually as you or I might switch on the radio. And when I remind them piracy is a crime, they look at one another and go “LOL.” (“Aargh, me hearty!” someone adds, as if to an imaginary parrot, and they LOL again, louder this time.) These are kids who shrug when they lose their iPods, with all five thousand tunes and Lord-knows-what in the way of video clips, feature films, and “TV” shows (like, who watches TV on a television anymore?). “There’s plenty more where that came from,” their attitude says. And the most infuriating thing of all? They’re right. The digital content that powers their world, like matter itself, can never truly be destroyed. Like the Magic Pudding of Australian legend, it’s a dessert bar that never runs out of cheesecake.

There’s so much that’s wonderful, and at the same time nauseating, about that.

The Winter of Our Disconnect — aka The Experiment (as we all eventually came to call it) — was in some ways an accident waiting to happen. Over a period of years, I watched and worried as our media began to function as a force field separating my children from what my son, only half ironically, called RL (Real Life). But to be honest, the teenagers weren’t the only ones with dependency issues. Although a relatively recent arrival to the global village, I’d been known to abuse information too. (Sneaking my iPhone into the toilet? Did I have no self-respect?) As a journalist, it was easy to hide my habit, but deep down I knew I was hooked.

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The Winter of Our Disconnect started out as a kind of purge. It ended up as so much more. Long story short: Our digital detox messed with our heads, our hearts, and our homework. It changed the way we ate and the way we slept, the way we “friended,” fought, planned, and played. It altered the very taste and texture of our family life. Hell, it even altered the mouthfeel. In the end, our family’s self-imposed exile from the Information Age changed our lives indelibly — and infinitely for the better. This book is our travel log, our apologia, our "Pilgrim’s Progress" slash "Walden Pond" slash "Lonely Planet Guide to Google-free Living."

At the simplest level, "The Winter of Our Disconnect" is the story of how one highly idiosyncratic family survived six months of wandering through the desert, digitally speaking, and the lessons we learned about ourselves and our technology along the way. At the same time, our story is a channel, if you’ll excuse the expression, to a wider view — into the impact of new media on the lives of families, into the very heart of the meaning of home.

Excerpted from "The Winter of Our Disconnect" by Susan Maushart. Copyright (c) 2010. Reprinted with permission from Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

© 2012 MSNBC Interactive


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