For the background behind this post, see part 1.
Forty-eight hours with no television until after baby’s bedtime, no social media, no phone apps except for my camera and minimal texting—as someone who didn’t grow up with these things, it shouldn’t have even been a ‘challenge,’ yet I still thought giving up my favorite technology by taking the “Unplugged Challenge” with my middle school students would be eye-opening. I guess I thought I’d feel freer, or more in the moment, or I’d come to some great life-altering epiphany.
Instead, I found giving up social media and other technology a confirmation. I knew over the last few years my technology use had exploded. I was aware I was spending more time than I should ‘connected’ to one device or another. I even had a pretty good idea of why I was doing it. Unplugging did help me think about what reasons and uses are (perhaps) legit and which are excuses or bad habits.
My longest standing technology obsession is the one that uses the oldest technology, bothers me the most now that I have a child, and it is definitely a hard to break habit with little benefit: it’s watching the evening news. There’s history to this habit that I won’t get into here, but for now let’s just say it’s inherited. Yet long after I moved out on my own, I was still watching the 5, 5:30, and 6 o’clock editions of the local news broadcasts while I cooked, ate, and cleaned up from dinner. The newscasters I grew up with were a comfort, a companion as I ate alone. The problem is I don’t eat alone anymore. I have an adorable little person in the high chair next to me now. No, he’s not much for conversation at the moment, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be talking to him, or just tickling those pudgy toes, anything but looking over his head at the weather forecast for the third time in an hour.
My social media and online time was another area of concern, but one I feel I was already pretty good at self-policing. While I scroll my Facebook feed frequently, I don’t do it when I’m playing with my son. Though to help with the temptation during the challenge I did turn off all notifications and wondered why I never thought to do that before. I’m not knocking all social media, though. It was a sanity-saver during those first few weeks of cluster feeding and reflux that led to nearly all naps being taken on me. It was a way of staying connected to the ‘outside world’ during a time I sometimes felt isolated. Even now on weekends alone with the baby, social media allows me interaction, albeit virtual, with other adults, which sometimes I just need. At work I still use social media to pass the time pumping, because damn it if I’m going to be locked in a book closest every couple hours, I deserve a guilty pleasure. But now that my little man is more interactive, I try to put the phone down and just play during my time at home with him—or when I do pick it up, it’s to take cute pictures of him! I try to wait until nap time to post them, but I admit sometimes I want to share them right then.
The online forums and mothers’ groups can also rack up screen time, but again I’m doing them after baby’s bedtime, and I’m using them as a connection to other single, local, and/or nursing moms to get advice, share stories, and provide support. In a world where so many moms work or are isolated staying at home, I think these groups are great. Unless they become negative for me or encroach on play time, I don’t feel the need to give them up, but taking a break for one weekend didn’t bother me either.
So while I didn’t have an earth-shattering realization during my unplugged weekend, I did learn a little. First, the world didn’t end because I missed the local news, and reading the thermometer before leaving the house was about as useful as a New England weather forecast anyways. If I want to keep the family obsession, I mean tradition, alive, I can and should do it after baby’s bedtime—at least until he’s old enough to join me. As for the mom forums, the other mothers survived (maybe enjoyed) a weekend without my questions and commentary, so maybe an occasional break is a good idea.
The hardest part would have been going so long without interacting with other adults, but I luckily had dinner plans with my brother’s family and a playdate with two co-workers and their sons. At first I almost felt this was cheating, since I was busier than I normally would be, but maybe that’s the lesson. Maybe I need to be better about making face-to-face plans, especially in the winter when I tend to want to hibernate, to provide myself opportunities to feel connected without being “plugged in.”
Finally, reading my students’ reflections on their unplugged experiences, a number of them mentioned that they went out and played more. These ‘screenagers’ built snow forts, played with neighbors, watched siblings’ sporting events, all without phones in their faces. Maybe as adults we can follow their lead, put down our phones, and find ways to ‘play’ with our kids and one another face-to-face like we did growing up.