The children are up in our business as we try to make dinner. Normally, they’d be downstairs in the family room watching Netflix. But tech, particularly tech with screens, has been banned in my house for parents and kids alike. And that means the children are under our feet – whining, arguing with one another, asking questions. It feels wildly claustrophobic, which was not what I’d expected when our analog week started.
Do not get me wrong. I knew that our devices and screens were really good at creating distance. My wife and I have long used the television to tether our two boys to another room so we could get things done without being hounded. But I also understood that cell phones created both a psychological and physical barrier between me and my kids.
In fact, much of my inspiration for banishing tech was the fact that I was feeling disconnected from my family. Summer break had ended. Both kids were back in school. My wife had gone back to work after five years as a stay-at-home mom. I missed my family and I was determined to make every minute we had count.
The fix seemed pretty simple: Hide the remotes, put away all electronic toys, turn off the smart speaker (sorry, Alexa) and lock phones up as soon as children and parents are home. But even though the logistics were easily accomplished, the adjustment period was strained – starting with trying to get dinner done with TV detoxing kids underfoot.
We managed that first night without anybody melting down (parents included). Still, everyone felt deeply inconvenienced. What time was it? Go find a clock. Want to listen to music? Choose a record and put it on the turntable, or go get an instrument. Bored? Go find a game to play. Of course, all of this was greeted with clinginess and sighs.
Still, if the goal was to connect with the family rather than the internet, I’d succeeded. For lack of anything better to do the children climbed on me, sat on me, and begged for cuddles and playtime. Without her phone, my wife pulled her guitar from the wall and asked me to teach her some chords. We gravitated towards each other.
At first, it was all very uncomfortable. The years had dulled our ability to communicate a bit. It was startling to not have to compete with a show or an app, or a toy to get the kids attention. And the boys themselves, without a buffer, discovered a friction between each other as they tried to stave off boredom. My wife and I were constantly interjecting until we eventually gave up. Our favorite phrase for the week became “figure it out, man.”
But eventually, the conflict began to fade and we developed a rhythm. The boys started helping us make dinner. They did chores to fill some time and opted to go outside more often. At dinner, we’d listen to records and talk about the day. After dinner, I’d play guitar and my wife would read Harry Potter out loud.
After about four days, I started having an overwhelming feeling of nostalgia. What we were doing felt incredibly familiar. And then it struck me: this was an echo of my own childhood. Back when I was small, there had been a few good years when my parents were relatively happy. I remembered times from when I was the same age as my 7-year-old when I would play on the floor as my father strummed a guitar and the house dimmed into the evening light. I remembered wrestling and playing with my parents, or sitting as they played backgammon and listened to records. And now I was recapturing some of that gentle magic.
But through it all, there was a moment in the experiment that showed the true value of what we were doing. One night, a week in, I caught my boys role-playing in a manner I’d never seen them do before. They had donned their bathrobes and were playing Harry Potter.
Sure. Right? So what?
Here’s the thing: my kids’ role play had largely consisted of cartoon characters. The pretended to be Pokémon trainers and Paw Patrol pups. The play was based on images they’d seen – visions fully formed and rendered in garish colors on the screen. But they’d never watched anything related to Harry Potter. They’d only heard it read to them. And now they had adopted and internalized the characters. But what excited me so much about this development was the fact that to create the role play, they needed to use more of their imaginations to visualize the world and the characters. They’d never adopted played characters from a book before and I saw it as a profound sign that cutting our cords had been very worthwhile.
Eventually, we all rediscovered our boundaries. Like elastic stretched too far, we’d snapped back uncomfortably before finding a natural stasis.
That said. I understand that my family can not live like this forever. Becoming neo-Luddites would be far too isolating. The boys need to keep up with some shows so they can have conversations with classmates. My wife and I need our phones for important tasks. I’m not sure why I need my smart speaker, but damn, it’s way easier to ask Alexa what time it is rather than finding a clock.
Still, I want to maintain as much of this new closeness as I can with my family. To that end, the plan is to be weekday Luddites. The TV will remain off and phones put away from Monday through Friday. When Saturday comes, the tech will return. It’s a compromise, but one I’m willing to take to stay close to my family.