Saturday, March 20, 2010

Life, unplugged

When I was the age my kids are now, life was completely unplugged. 

The one phone we all used was on the kitchen wall, and the handset was connected to the phone with a curly cord that eventually became a blob of knots and twists. 

Calculators were way to expensive, and they were huge. No one had computers. Just electric typewriters - if you were lucky enough to have received one as a gift for high school graduation. And the computers that did exist took up an entire room, and only very cutting-edge companies had them. 

We had three channels on our black and white tee vee, and eventually, we got to watch in color. 

We had a record player and a radio. My first car had an 8-track tape player built in, and that was cutting-edge for 1978. When I hear an old Billy Joel song now, I can remember what part of the song was interrupted when the track changed. 

I was in my early teens when microwave ovens had their start, and I remember being completely in awe that you could put a glass of water in a box, and in moments the water would be boiling. 

If someone told me when I was an adolescent that in the span of 30 years I could put a bajillion songs on a device smaller than a pack of my mom's Salems, I'd have laughed in their face. Shut up, future freak, I'd say. And just imagine what I'd have told them if they let me in on laptops and cell phones.

So hop in the time machine with me and reset the time from 1980 to 2010, won't you? Times have changed, haven't they? And now, we're all plugged in.

In 1980, I graduated from high school. And next year, my oldest son will graduate from high school. I think it's safe to say that his world is completely different than mine was that blink-of-an-eye ago, when I was his age.

He learned how to use a mouse before he learned how to use the bathroom. He has an X-Box and all kinds of games. He has a computer in his room that's essential to his school work, and also apparently essential to his social life. He has an ipod, and he has a cell phone. I don't think he could function without texting. And everything I say about Connor's tech world holds true for his younger brother. 

All the tech dependence gets frustrating for me. Because I remember first-hand what 1979 was like, what with all the under-the-radar talking, hanging out, interacting. No one knew what we were doing.

Remember what that was like?

So a story I read today on especially piqued my interest. The article explained the National Day of Unplugging. And although the observed day is today and it's obviously too late for me, we can all unplug whenever we want to, believe it or not. Here's an excerpt from the article:

"Composed of Internet entrepreneurs, creators of award-winning television shows, community organizers and nonprofit leaders, these "Rebooters" are people who typically have their cell phones glued to their palms. Several of them go so far as to say they have an addiction to their devices.
But this weekend they will be observing 24 hours of freedom from their devices: a National Day of Unplugging lasting from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath.
The day is being used as a launchpad for Reboot's ongoing project, the Sabbath Manifesto. Dan Rollman, a Rebooter and founder of the Universal World Record Database Web site, created the Sabbath Manifesto because he felt that technology was taking over too much of his life.
"There's clearly a social problem when we're interacting more with digital interfaces than our fellow human beings," Rollman said in an e-mail to CNN. "Rich, engaging conversations are harder to come by than they were a few years ago. Our attention spans are silently evaporating."
The Sabbath Manifesto consists of 10 principles. However, people are encouraged to discuss online which principles work and which should be tweaked. As they stand now, the guiding principles are:
1. Avoid technology.
2. Connect with loved ones.
3. Nurture your health.
4. Get outside.
5. Avoid commerce.
6. Light candles.
7. Drink wine.
8. Eat bread.
9. Find silence.
10. Give back.
The National Day of Unplugging specifically promotes the first principle.

Even though Reboot is technically focused on reaching out to hyper-connected Jews, the values behind the Sabbath Manifesto are meant for all denominations. ..."

My favorites on this list are 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 9 and 10. I avoid commerce whenever possible, which can be verified by my meager bank balance. I can live without lighting candles, and I'll skip the carbs, thank you.

But reading the article did send me into my 1980s reflective mode, and got me wondering whether my kids could handle living like I did when I was their age, abiding for a day by adhering to the first guiding principle. 

I think we might give it a try. Maybe we'll call it something snappy and low-tech.

Because it's good to disconnect, to unplug, to just be, without any kind of link to anything but what's in your head and what's around you. 

I don't know how they'll handle it. But as I recall, without over-sentimentalization, it was easy for us.

And for the most part, we pre-tech folks seemed to have adapted well to this brave new world.

I wonder if our kids would adapt so easily if they unplugged.

Just for a day.


  1. In the spirit of this movement, I also unplugged for a day. Fortunately, I was able to charge everything the night before and the batteries got me through it all unscathed. Your reminiscing about another era brings to mind CB radios. What high school boy DIDN'T go down on a girl, only to hear 'Breaker Breaker' somehow emit from the metallic I.U.D. in her uterus?

  2. We will unplug as well...

  3. Funny, I'm reading this on my I-phone.

  4. It's everywhere, and oh so convenient!