Kristina Beers: Connecting the family by disconnecting internet

 By Kristina Beers

Special to the Pioneer

The electronic wars are still raging at the Beers house, even if it’s more of the Cold War ilk. I have been doing more unintentional research on how technology affects brain development, the trail of money leading “experts” to decree every child in every classroom needs a screen, and my own accounts of slipping into the rabbit hole of a “quick peek” online.

I say unintentional research because I haven’t exactly set out to debunk screens and decry how Google changes the wiring in your brain … I have only happened upon growing amounts of information, little whispers in the wilderness of clamor that purports convenience. At the very base is a funny little meme that keeps coming back to me. On the top half, you see a woman in black and white relief, holding a phone. The caption says, “I better not say that, the Government may wiretap my home.” The bottom half shows a voice-controlled smart speaker, the kind that begins to “assist” you when prompted and the caption reads, “Wiretap, can cats eat pancakes?”

Why do I want that in my home? Remember when all the media sources were talking about the dangers of integrated monitor cameras into computers? That they could be remotely accessed and turned on, watching all you are doing in your home, posing a danger to your family? Well, we’ve went and done one better. These devices can listen to every single thing that comes out of your mouth. If all you have to do is speak a prompt, what’s making sure it’s not doing anything else? It’s creepy when you begin to think about how easily they are welcomed into our sacred domiciles.

Between reading some recent tomes on silence alongside a parenting conference I attended only a few short weeks ago, I was inundated with information on the dangers of screens, especially on little children and families. There are troubling stats, to say the least, on what exactly happens to our thinking and memory skills when we use the brain in our back pocket. I’ve described phones as another appendage and compared the tone of notifications to Pavlov’s dog salivating. I see, firsthand, how it robs families of time together. There is nothing more terrifying as parent to see your children gathered in the same room, staring at an inanimate object, ignoring those people who are right in front of them. A silent room full of boys — in years past, that would have been a cause for grave concern.

I’m often a brutal cleaner: If you don’t need it, toss it. Very little sentimentality can be involved in the keeping of unnecessary things or something that is not good for your soul. I could easily live without internet in my home, much quicker than I could without my mother’s worn cookbook. Unfortunately, my boys and husband have to live with my shenanigans and my cut-it-off-at-the-knees mentality. I fought the phones until late adolescence and now, apparently, I can’t drop the fight: I’m moving on to home internet access, specifically the disconnection of such.

How funny, as I type this, I have to use the word “disconnect,” since that is exactly how I would describe what happens to a family in the throes of the cyber world: They’re disconnected. You can’t even say they are “connected” by watching a show together; we all decried TV in the homes back in the ’70s and ’80s, disrupting family evenings. Now it’s even worse with everyone on their own phone, isolating each self.

We are connected in utero to our mother, feeding our little growing bodies. We are connected by holding a little newborn, nursing, snuggling, talking to the new person. We are connected as a family by reading a bedtime story, laughing over a game, listening to a heartache. We are only truly pieced together as a whole by human contact. If it were true that constant accessibility to others via media forms was an adequate substitute or equal to human contact, then there would be no breakdown of the family, no affairs begun online, no need for digital detox retreats, no uptick in anxiety disorders, no despair in our society.

Since I pulled the literal digital plug (and we have yet to really have a hash-out discussion on what this is going to look like in our home) we have spent even longer dallying at the dinner table, sat around the living room talking randomly because they had no reason for isolation, spent more time outside, cut more wood and crawled into bed exhausted. We have had our fair share of irritable fights, literally detoxing from all of our electronic addictions, but are slowly replacing that time spent online with such treasures as (believe it or not!) nightly reading aloud from a set of classics I found in the dumpster. (Ah, yes, that tale will find its way to you, I’m sure.)

I can’t say where this is leading, but I do hope that it becomes a lasting stamp on the mark our family makes on this world.

 

Kristina Beers lives in the Remus area with her husband and five sons. She shares her thoughts on parenting teenagers and young adults on the first and third Saturdays of each month.

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