Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Winter of our Disconnect: A Book Review

Written by Renee
Unplugging for a day is one thing, but could you unplug for a week? Sometimes nature makes that decision for us. Could you unplug for one month, six months?

The very notion seems crazy in this day and age of googling everything under the sun (we're homeschoolers, I love Google) and social networking where many of us interact with our "real" friends. Not to mention that many of us rely on being plugged in to do the work that feeds our families.

The idea seems almost implausible, and with teenagers to boot!

The Winter of Our Disconnect, written by Susan Maushart, is the story of one family's experience unplugging from electronic technology and media in their home for six months. No computers, digital music, tv, video consoles, cellular phones, etc...

I read the book this past summer and just knew it would be a great read to share with you all.

The big question of course, next to how did the author got her teenagers to agree to this scheme (she pays them), is what happens to this family when they dis"connect" from all that for six months?

I don't want to ruin the story for you (spoiler alert) but it turns out this family ends up more connected with each other, and nearby family and friends, because of disconnecting with the world at large.

Music - the actual instrument playing kind, board games, hospitality, and lots of reading return to their lives. In truth, so does lengthy landline phone conversations, but these are teenagers after all.

Of course this is what you hope will happen, at least I did. Isn't this the news we all want to hear? That there are brave souls who turn against the rising tide of non-stop electronic connectivity; and come out the other side not just alive but still loving each other.

The thing that I loved about the book, as much as the message, was the way the message was delivered. With hilarious "life with teenagers" anecdotes and personal story telling.

Not only does Maushart have you ROTFLing, she goes deeper than the surface story to discuss the science and psychology of technology in the modern world. How being connected 24/7 is changing the ways we relate to each other and the very way our brains our wired - for good and bad.

There are no foregone conclusions in this book. Maushart does not dismiss the use of technology in our lives. Instead her honest story telling and research cause us to question our own technology choices and near constant influence of media in our lives.

A couple points that really held my interest were the discussions of using media to medicate boredom and the additive qualities of certain technologies. Anyone who has wasted hours surfing the web (um... me) will appreciate the science and humor of these discussions.

There are many such moments in this book, sandwiched between LOL moments (Maushart uses these text anacronyms throughout the book to great effect), story and science, where the reader will pause and consider their own connectivity and how it affects their personal health and relationships.

Job well done by Maushart, if you ask me.

Another thing I loved about this book were all the Thoreau quotes and references. Over the past year I have been reading Walden; Or Life in The Woods and I loved how Maushart weaves Thoreau's classic story in with her own. Both writers venturing where few in their respective societies dared to go.

One of things initially misleading about this book, that you find out when reading is that the family does not unplug completely. Her school-aged teenagers did in fact use computers for their studies, just not at home. And Maushart herself used a computer for writing at her office. But they did so without the distractions of e-mail, Twitter, Facebook and other social media. Imagine the productivity!

A small, teensy (quibbling) criticism I have of the book is that the actual season this story takes place in is the Australian summer. The family is Australian/American and their summer is the Northern Hemisphere's winter, hence the "winter" part of The Winter of Our Disconnect. That felt a bit contrived to me. That is a minor detail in an otherwise fabulous read.

Our own lives revolve so much around computers - we earn a living as writers, photographers and programmers. Not to mention all the entertainment and media we access digitally. And having recently moved and being in a place of transition we connect with many of our "real" friends (not talking Facebook here) and our "tribe" via the Internet.

That being said, this book does challenge me to unplug for portions of the day. And for portions of our week - Unplugged Sunday. And maybe someday, if we ever do that long thru-hike we dream about, we may just disconnect for a whole season also.

Have you read anything recently that inspires you to unplug?


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