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The Huffington Post :: The Lost Art of Staring Into Space

The Lost Art of Staring Into SpaceElizabeth Benedict "Which do you prefer -- sex or a pastrami sandwich?" one guy asks another, though it's not a proposition but a light-hearted survey. "To tell you the truth," the other guy says, "sometimes the sandwich." This exchange is lodged in my memory, overheard a dozen years ago at a restaurant.

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 10 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, 20 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.

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The A.V. Club Book Review :: The Winter of Our Disconnect

The Onion weighs in ... in typical style. Love the shout-out to Hollywood that kicks it all off. Nancy Meyers, are you listening? The Onion Review :: The Winter of Our Disconnect Tasha Robinson

If Susan Maushart’s book 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 hasn’t been made into a movie within a year or two, it’s proof that everyone in Hollywood is asleep at the switch. It’s the perfect cinema-ready blend of zeitgeist-tapping story and heartwarming uplift piece. It’s infinitely relatable for anyone who owns more than three portable electronic devices. It’s full of wry-but-Middle-America-friendly comic moments, and it comes with a built-in moral. Given all that, it’s also pat and predictable, a by-the-numbers mash-up of the lifestyle-experiment book genre (see also The Year Of Living Biblically, Julie & Julia, Living Oprah, etc.) and an Erma Bombeck family-humor book. But like so many lifestyle-experiment books, it asks readers to look up from their routines and actually notice their own lives for a moment, and it’s hard to see that as a bad thing.

As the subtitle spells out, Winter Of Our Disconnect documents a six-month period where Perth author/journalist Maushart and her three reluctant, bribed-into-compliance teenagers gave up anything with a screen: cell phones, computers, TVs, gaming systems, mp3 players, and so forth. (Use of school computers or friends’ TVs or games were permitted; technology was just banned from the home and the participants’ personal possession.) The broad results won’t surprise any reader: Maushart and her family members were initially bored and at a loss, but soon started entertaining themselves by coming closer as a family and engaging in time-consuming tasks they’d been too addled and distracted for, like cooking, learning a musical instrument, reading books, and simply having long, intimate conversations with each other.

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The Boston Globe: Without being wired, family connected again

My fantasy review ... written by Chuck Leddy (aka my new best friend) at The Boston Globe. Without being wired, family connected again Chuck Leddy

Susan Maushart, a divorced mother of three teenagers, noticed how digital technology, from Facebook to online gaming to constant text messaging, had fractured her family into independent fiefdoms. Connected only to their devices and their online “friends,’’ the Maushart family had stopped eating together and rarely held real-world conversations. As Maushart puts it, “I started considering . . . the possibility that the more we connect, the further we may drift, the more fragmented we may become.’’

After rereading “Walden,’’ about Henry David Thoreau’s famous two-year stint living in solitude alongside a Concord pond, Maushart, a journalist and social scientist with a doctorate from New York University in communication arts and science, was inspired to begin her own experiment in mindful living: For a six-month period, she would allow her family no in-home access to any screen, including computers, cellphones, and televisions. Needless to say, her teenagers were less than thrilled, but, as Maushart’s provocative, funny, and highly personal memoir shows, it changed them all profoundly.

Maushart’s narrative contains loads of eye-opening scientific data about how digital technology has changed our living patterns. Maushart winningly blends the personal and the scientific, and her narrative tone throughout is amusingly self-effacing. Her teenagers roll their eyes when she explains how things were different when she was young. “In my day,’’ she says, “if you wanted to play violent interactive games, watch inappropriate content, and converse with dodgy strangers, you had to wait for a family reunion.’’

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Irish Times: Information Flatulence

Karen Lillington wrote a phenomenal article for the Irish Times titled "Information Flatulence". Great title, too  - am pretty sure it's taken from the book, now that I immodestly think about it ... It's fascinating to see how various countries are viewing "the experiment." I've had mail from China, Poland, Spain, Chile, Korea, Turkey, Hungary ... and  Brazil, where the publishing rights have just been sold. There's no doubt about it. Sometimes technology really can be our friend.

Information Flatulence Karen Lillington

WHEN TWO small girls, aged 10 and 12, were trapped in a storm drain in Australia in 2009 they might easily have perished. Fortunately, they had their mobile phones with them and immediately sought help – by updating their status on their Facebook pages. Lucky for them, a schoolfriend quickly saw the update, the authorities were notified and they all lived happily ever after.

The story, one of many amusingly telling yet quietly alarming anecdotes in Susan Maushart’s The Winter of Our Disconnect , perfectly illustrates her starting premise that Digital Natives – those children and young adults who have never known anything but a life with their faces turned towards screens and the internet – think and act differently from those of us who can remember a world before “friend” became a verb.

The Natives live in a world of intense connectivity and media saturation. More than 90 per cent of US teenagers are online, and they spend about as much time connected to the internet as they do sleeping: the equivalent of a full working day. Three-quarters have a mobile phone, two-thirds have their own computer, most have a TV in their bedroom and more than 90 per cent have an iPod or other music player. The figures are probably broadly similar over here.

“They’re kids who’ve had cell phones and wireless Internet longer than they’ve had molars. Who multitask their schoolwork alongside five or six other electronic inputs, to the syncopated beat of the Instant Messenger pulsing insistently like some distant tribal tom-tom,” Maushart writes.

So what would happen if you disconnected that giant digital umbilical cord? Exiled the computers, hid the gaming devices, dropped the net connection, put the TVs in the garage?

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It's Your Health Network Interview

Susan Maushart Author of 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

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