It's been just over a month since my family started this device-free experiment. Each week seems to have presented a different set of challenges, along with some further insights into how the internet and technology has changed our lives. Things have been said that make me cringe, but when I take a step back and really look at what we're doing, those comments really are a slap in society's face.
Let me just further build this picture for you.
I started this little device-free experiment, turning off the internet and the devices for one day a week, because my children seemed to be sinking themselves into computer games and Netflix, and I didn't like it. That first week was incredibly difficult for them. (It was difficult on my husband too.) But I pushed through...
The weeks that have followed have tales of their own.
Week 2: The husband was suffering from withdrawal.
The second week of our device-free experiment started with an interesting twist. The night before, I got the kids to bring all their electronics (Kindles and stereos excluded) into the lounge area. All good.
Well, the hubby went to bed really late. 3am and he still wasn't in bed. I got up to see what was going on. I found him in the corner of the lounge sitting at my desk, playing videos and games on his phone. He looked incredibly sheepish. It would appear that he decided to get in a last minute dose of electronics (that lasted for hours) before the device-free day kicked into full swing.
It was beyond farcical, only reinforcing my decision to initiate these device-free days. He needed them just as much as the kids did.
Well, I went back to bed, ignoring the loophole he found in the system. When I got up in the morning, his phone had been added to the pile of electronics from the kids.
The day itself, followed pretty much the same routine it did in our first week, complete with our daughter constantly saying, "I'm bored."
The following day, I got up in the morning to find that my husband's phone had somehow migrated to my desk and the charging station that I have wired up for my devices while I'm working. It would appear that he decided to break our device-free rule after I went to bed for the night. Cheeky bugger!
Week 3: A different dynamic was introduced.
On week 3, my husband had to return to work. His two-week holiday over Christmas and New Year's was over, so this added a level of complexity to our device-free days. We actually had it worked out how we would manage this. The rule had morphed to device-free home for that day. Hubby needs the computer for work. Kids, when they finally go back to school, will need their computers for school work. I would be the biggest b***h on the planet if I insisted that the device-free rule applied outside the home. I would actually impact on my husband's ability to bring home the bacon, to use an old-world phrase.
So, hubby was covered for his hours outside the home. That left myself and my two teenage children.
Enter the temptation...
The Friday of week 3 was filled with me taking my son shopping for clothes. For some people, this might sound like fun, but taking a 17-year-old male who would prefer to be playing computer games 100% of his free time... Shopping for clothes is TORTURE, but it was something that needed to be done.
My son is entering into his final year of high school, and for the first time ever, he gets to wear mufti to school every day. NO uniforms.
Just as a side note for those outside of New Zealand: The majority of high schools throughout the country, including the public schools, have uniforms. I had to wear uniform in high school here too — in fact, I didn't have to wear a uniform until my family moved to New Zealand, and I went to private schools in the States. To make life more interesting, ALL primary schools within Christchurch, New Zealand also have uniforms. This means that my children have never known any other way of life. The moment they started school at the age of 5 was the moment they started wearing uniforms.
So, wearing NO uniform is a big deal for a teenager. Except my son doesn't really care about fashion. What he cares about is being comfortable.
To my pleasure, he has chosen to not wear sloppy clothes to school for the coming year. He wanted me to get him button-up shirts and some nice hoodies (expensive ones that I managed to get on sale). He still intends to wear jeans most days, but with the nice shirt, he won't look like a scruff bucket. At least that will be the case, until he is in desperate need of a haircut.
Well, between finding new shoes (NO black school shoes for the first time in 12 years) and the new shirts, and some shorts because he was dying in the summer heat, our little shopping excursion took several hours. My daughter... well...
My daughter was home alone. She's old enough, and responsible enough, so it wasn't a big deal. However, I could tell that she was incredibly tempted to break the device-free rule and delve into the TV. She even admitted as much, but she never did, because she was afraid that I would come in the door at any moment and catch her. She admitted that she was tempted to go on her computer, but she doesn't have a clue how to be fast enough to hide what she's doing. She decided against it for the same reasons that she decided against going on the TV. The tablets were flat—they're so old that the battery life on those things are erratic. And she couldn't find her phone — because I HID IT!
So, while my son and I were out shopping, my daughter was honoring out device-free rule — reluctantly.
When my husband came home from work, he passed me his phone, and the rest of the evening went by without a glitch. The hubby didn't even feel the need to sneak his phone after I went to bed. (He must have gotten his fill while at work.)
Week 4 and life is being hindered.
We hit week 4 and the realities of how much we have come to rely on technology and the internet has hit hard. The cold turkey, device-free philosophy was even impacting on me!
I'm a writer and freelance editor. So much of what I do is on the computer. While I've put in place strategies so I can continue to write using device-free methods, editing and actually running a business is not a device-free activity. There were things that I needed to do, but couldn't.
While the kids were still in bed, I broke all the rules and I was on that phone getting in there: sending emails, responding to ads, networking with writers and other editors on Facebook. I had hoped to be finished with all of it by the time my son got up, so he would never know.
He actually told me off for being on device.
"I'm working," I snapped back, though it wasn't 100% true. Some of the Facebook interactions weren't necessary, but networking itself is.
Let's just say that I'm actually looking forward to the kids going back to school. Not only are they driving me crazy, but this device-free rule is impacting on my writing and editing productivity.
But the rule breaking of the device-free rule didn't stop there.
My son needed to pack some gear for the camp that he's attending the week before school starts (he's going to be a peer support leader, helping the Year 9 students settle in to the school). He needed the gear list. It was online. "Mum, can I boot up my computer so I can print out my gear list."
Of course, I agreed to let him. After he caught me on my phone, how could I not?
Then we made the decision that we needed to get the stationery for the coming year. Crap... The lists are online. So, I logged into my tablet and found the file needed, then printed it out.
Then... Phone call from hubby. "Do me a favor and scan in a copy of my passport. I need it."
To this, my daughter responded, "You're ruining device-free day." Never mind, she was standing right next to me as I had broken the device-free rule for the third time already that day, just to print out her stationery list.
So, boot up the computer and do what I needed to do to get the scanned file to my husband.
As we progressed into the later morning, I needed to take my daughter to the store to get new sports uniform. There is only one store that I could go to, as there is only one store stocking the new uniforms for her school. AND the store is located in a part of the city that I don't know very well. Ugh! Out comes the smart phone for yet ANOTHER device-free rule breaking experience. Program the address into Google Maps and give me the GPS directions, so I don't get lost.
Yeah, it's safe to say that the device-free policy was actually impacting on life as a whole. Sure, there weren't any TV binge moments, and no one played computer games, but OMG, I never realized how much of our lives revolved around internet-based communication.
I do feel good about the fact that not once did one of us sneak off to play a computer game or watch Netflix. The hubby did listen to his music through his phone while he was doing dishes, and the daughter had the radio blaring while she attacked the mess left in the wake of the tornado that had hit her room, but when it came to general entertainment, we all found other things to do.
My son even started a puzzle that I've had for years with over 1000 pieces. He's making fantastic progress on it too. I did a massive cleanup of my desk, decluttering the mess, to make it easier for me to work in device-free mode when writing. My daughter pulled out some artwork (I look forward to seeing the finished pieces), and my husband pulled out his Kindle and downlowded one of the many books that I've recently purchased.
Still a week of holidays, but this rule will be permanent.
We still have a week left of the school holidays before the summer is over. That's only one more device-free day where the entire day will be affected. After that, the rule changes.
While the kids are at school, the device-free house rule is lifted. I will be able to do whatever I want on any device I choose during that time. I'll be able to actually write directly into the computer, or edit and network. I'll be able to WORK!
However, from the point that the first child walks in the door, I'll have 30 minutes to bring to an end whatever it is that I'm working on and sign off for the night. From that point, the house becomes a device-free home for the remainder of the night. It will continue to be only one day a week. It's called baby steps here. No need to torture everyone all the time. But I think it's going to be good, if for no other reason than to remind ourselves that there is more to life than what one can find on the internet.