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July 31, 2011

Technology Turn-Off

by Anne Paddock

Nearly ten years ago, my husband and I turned off our cell phones and moved to Madrid, Spain. Cell phones weren’t in the hands of every man, woman, and child so we didn’t really think we were disconnecting from life. After all, we would still have a land line.  We opted not to have cell phones in Spain primarily because we didn’t feel the need and we wanted to live in the moment with our young daughter. She was beginning first grade and we took her to school, picked her up, and if she went anywhere, we were always with her so there really was no need for a cell phone.

The teachers at my daughter’s French school were all native French or Spanish speakers, except for one nun who happened to be from California.  One day, the California nun approached me after school and told me that Madame (the principal) noticed we didn’t list a cell phone on the parent information form. I nodded my head in agreement confirming the information. Thinking I didn’t want to share my cell phone number, she responded  “Of course you have a cell phone.” I simply said “No, really…we don’t have cell phones.  One or both of us are usually at home and if we’re not, we will be shortly.” I wanted to say “I’m not going to lie to a nun” but I thought it better to just state the truth and move on.  She was clearly perplexed and astonished and probably chalked it up to us being weird Americans.

Ten years ago, cell phones were more popular in Europe than in the United States with everyone carrying and actively using one 24/7 – on the streets, in restaurants, and even at our dining room table in Madrid. The children at school had cell phones and our daughter claimed she was the only one that didn’t have a “mobile.” When we asked her who she needed to call, she said “her friends.”  That her friends were at school with her seemed to be beside the point.  Most Spaniards we met over the next four years were truly shocked when they learned they would have to call us on a land line to speak to us.

Flash forward a few years and we have since bought into the mania of the world and acquired cell phones, family plans, and all the technology the world tells us we need to handle day-to-day life and emergencies (more day-to-day life I’m apt to conclude).  We are wired as much as the next person but with limitations. We don’t bring cell phones or blackberries to the table, we turn them off in restaurants, movie theaters, and when we are guests.

In our home, at 8:30 pm we have “Technology Turn-off” which is when everyone turns off their cell phones, blackberries, and computers.  I can’t take credit for this idea as I proposed it to my family after reading about it on a blog called “Mind to Mind Parenting” (www.mindtomindparenting.com) that talked about the benefits of disconnecting with technology and connecting with your family.

My family responded enthusiastically and no one was more surprised than I when my daughter said “sure, Mom..sounds like a good idea.”  I sensed relief that she now had a good excuse to disconnect from Facebook, TumblrSkype, and all the other sites she uses to stay connected to her friends 24/7. Not that she doesn’t want to be connected all the time, she does and having her computer on is an irresistible temptation always drawing her in. But if the phone and computer are off, the magnet has been marginalized.

Technology Turn-Off proved to be harder for my husband and myself than for our daughter. Summer schedules vary bringing my husband home late from the golf course with plans to spend a few minutes checking his e-mails, the news (we don’t have a television in the house), and how the market did. I, equally as guilty couldn’t sit in front of a computer on a beautiful day or when the house is full of guests so I would be tempted to log on at night.  But Technology Turn-Off is Technology Turn-Off and if we didn’t shut down, how could we expect our daughter to?

After 8:30 pm we usually gather in the family room where we often read.  Invariably, one of us starts talking about the day which gets the conversation going and the evening ends with all of us feeling connected. We were talking…really talking. Other evenings we would play Scrabble or Apples to Apples or our daughter and her friends would go for an evening swim followed by a group sauna.  What was important was that there was interaction and it wasn’t with a computer or cell phone.

One of the things I love about spending the summer in upstate New York is the unavailability of cell phone service.  We don’t have good coverage up here so I keep my phone turned off until I go downstate. Most people know to call the house to speak with us or shoot us an e-mail. Last November, my daughter lost her cell phone and we told her she would have to earn her own money to replace it. From November until June my daughter did not have a cell phone and although she missed it and I was sometimes frustrated that I couldn’t reach her at school, the house was more peaceful without it and we certainly had her attention.

With the receipt of her first paycheck this summer, my husband drove our daughter down to the closest Verizon store – 1 hour, 15 minutes away – where she spent three hours comparing phones before making a decision to buy the Motorola Droid and that’s how I found myself in front of the fire station in Blue Mountain Lake, New York with my daughter exclaiming “I’m so happy” as she activated her cell phone next to the new Verizon tower.

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