The Winter of Our Disconnect: How Three Totally Wired Teenagers (and a Mother Who Slept with Her iPhone)Pulled the Plug on Their Technology and Lived to Tell the Tale Paperback – Jan 20 2011
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"The author narrates her story in a breezy, irreverent style, but beneath the humor is much wisdom about what our wired world does for us and to us. No Luddite diatribe, but an insightful tale of the digital dilemmas familiar to many families."
-Kirkus Reviews [Starred review]
About the Author
Susan Maushart is a columnist for Weekend Australian Magazine and is heard regularly on ABC Radio as host of the acclaimed online series "Multiple Choice." Maushart has a PhD in Media Ecology from New York University and her book The Mask of Motherhood was hailed by the London Times as "a feminist classic." She lives in Australia but will be returning to live in the Long Island, New York, area this winter.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Oprah, People Magazine, USA Today, and Reader's Digest all say it's fabulous. I agree!
Ms Maushart does a good job of relating her personal experiences to behavioral research. Unlike some other reviewers, I found the statistics interesting, and even affirming at times. The writing style is casual and entertaining - I brought this book home with me because the first few pages were truly funny. The snarkiness wears out its welcome after a while, but either becomes less frequent, or this reader just started ignoring it.
After about 100 pages, it seemed that Ms Maushart had said about all she had to say on "The Experiment". That didn't stop her, though, and my interest really waned. The book became a struggle until the last 50 pages or so where the narrative started to shift to the end of The Experiment. Instead of the 100 pages of repetition, it would have been more interesting - as another reviewer noted - to take the story beyond The Experiment's end to recount lasting impacts/changes (or reversion to the way we were?).
All in all, a decent story I could relate to. It had its faults, but it was interesting to experience the author's personal account play off professional research and my own experience.
It reminds me of a scene from last Sunday at the Buttercup Bake Shop near my apartment, a heartbreaking power struggle involving competing temptations: technology, love, and sugar. I watched a girl, about ten years old, eat a cupcake and try to get her mother's attention, but Mom had eyes and fingers only for her iPhone. There was no evidence she'd even eaten a cupcake. She scrolled through emails for the entire time I sat next to them, twenty minutes. iPhone 1 - Cupcake 0. iPhone 1 - Daughter 0.
It made me sad to see the girl looking so bereft - and stuffing her face with mounds of sugar while Addict Mommie's eyes bored into the screen affixed to her palm. And sadder still because I had just finished Susan Maushart's terrific book about this very problem - our screen fixation and what it does to family life. The title says more than most do: The Winter of Our Disconnect: How Three Totally Wired Teenagers (and a Mother Who Slept with Her iPhone) Pulled the Plug on Their Technology and Lived to the Tell the Tale.
It's one of a number of smart new books that examines the down sides of our brave new world. Evgeny Morozov's Net Delusion: the Dark Side of Internet Freedom argues that the Internet does not have a liberal, pro-democracy bias, and that repressive governments use it more than we know to further their nefarious aims. MIT professor Sherry Turkle's Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less from Each Other is another title that says a great deal about where we are - and where we might be headed.
The Winter of Our Disconnect is lively, funny hybrid memoir of a six-month-long experiment that American journalist/PhD. Maushart, living in Australia, inflicted on her family. It's layered with social science, brain research, and apt quotations from Thoreau about his time on Walden Pond. Best of all, Maushart makes her three teenagers come wonderfully alive in all of their anger, dismay, angst, teen `tude, and up-to-the-minute slang.
The experiment was that they'd live without screens in their house for six months - no TV, computers, cell phones, or iPods. They could use computers to do their homework at libraries or Internet cafés, and Maushart used them to write her newspaper columns, but nothing within the walls of their house.
When she announces what's coming - "It's an experiment in living ... and it's going to change our lives" - the kids are understandably dumbfounded. "There was a frozen pause," she writes. "If life was a MacBook, this was our spinning color wheel of death." She sweetened the deal by paying them, though she doesn't say how much.
It takes time for them to work out the rules and the logistics, and her older daughter chooses instead to move in with her father - though she returns in a handful of weeks. For all of them: "When we contemplated taking the leap of faith into screen-free living, there were many things we feared. Gaining weight. Losing friends. `Missing out' (in some vague but disquieting way). But our greatest fear of all was the one that Bill had articulated right from the git-go: that without our media, we'd be bored. How ridiculous. Of course we were bored. Paradoxically, though, we found that reconnecting with our inner blank slate wasn't nearly as gruesome as we'd feared, once we got the hang of it and rediscovered the lost art of staring into space."
Part of what happens chez Maushart is that all this media silence and face-to-face connection allows her to observe and study everything from her kids' sleeping and eating habits (excessive screen time leads to insomnia and no family meals, hence junk food) to the more global matters of multi-tasking and brain function.
Something else happens: her son Bill rediscovers the saxophone - and reading novels. "For my son's sixteenth birthday, I bought him eleven books," she writes, "and he was thrilled." Plenty more happens but I don't want to spoil the journey or the payoff, except to say that there is one - or three or four.
Ironically - or not - I'm writing this on a computer, where I spend much of every day, and you're reading it on some kind of computer screen. It would be disingenuous to urge restraint, to suggest changing your ways - though I do want to promote an iPhone ban while eating cupcakes with your kids. Or send them to me, and I'll eat cupcakes with them, sans phone. But if you want to change your ways virtually, or imagine what it might be like for six months, there's no better place to look than The Winter of Our Disconnect.
Elizabeth Benedict [...] is the author of five novels and editor of the anthology, Mentors, Muses & Monsters: 30 Writers on the People Who Changed Their Lives. She is a writing coach for high school students who want help with their college application essays and can be reached at email@example.com.
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