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.’’