Wednesday, July 10, 2013


Dear readers: I'm sorry I haven't written in a few weeks. The Grape and I were traveling for much of that time to a faraway land without WiFi.

Actually, we spent most of the time in Finland, a technology advanced, highly connected country, where (very expensive) WiFi is apparently available everywhere but at my local library. (I suspect their wizened PC computers disliked my Mac.)

In hindsight, I realize that I should have hung out a closed for vacation sign, and I apologize for not doing so.

Now that I'm back, and re-connected to my own (only moderately costly) internet, I have a confession to make.

I liked unplugging.

And maybe, on some level, I found the exercise necessary. If I can live without indoor plumbing, as we did for a week of the trip, I can survive without social media.

For three weeks, I checked email about every other day from my phone, but I  didn't look at Facebook, or the many blogs I love, or even the NYT website.* I resisted the faint urge to upload and share photos of our vacation experiences in real time.

I didn't feel the slightest itch. If anything, I was reluctant to dive back in; I kept my phone shut off for a full sixteen hours after we landed back at Logan.

The Grape gets very little "screen time." He's not in full Waldorf style blackout, but all shows are pre-negotiated, most days he doesn't see any television at all, and he gets zero play around on screen gadgets time. The poor little guy has no idea my iPad features access to thousands of children's games. I just don't buy that apps and games aimed at his age group have "educational" value.

I'm not a saint about it. I have no shame about "turning on the babysitter" when I have adult company and an antsy tot. Once every few weeks, we make popcorn for family movie night. But to the Grape, those video splurges constitute special treats.

I'm not alone in my mistrust of the screen. Several teachers of young children have told me that they can tell immediately which children come from homes where the TV is always on, and let's just say it's not because those kids are achievers.

But if the television, or screens more generally, harm children's attention spans, then maybe periodic breaks from the electric flashing glow are good for the entire family.

While I go weeks without turning on the TV, I'm an info addict. I never go longer than a few hours without checking email and the headlines, and I've noticed that when I go dark on social media, sales of my books slump.

This last fact mystifies me, since I don't tweet compulsively, or even regularly, about my work. I don't keep up with the latest and edgiest messaging services. If anything, my Twitter presence should be hurting book sales since I'm forthright on many hot button topics, particularly gun control and women's rights. And elephants.

For all the advice out there for writers to "stay on message" and "avoid inflammatory subjects," I've found that a significant numbers of readers either like, or at least don't mind, that I happen to have opinions on subjects besides contemporary fiction.

Perhaps my periodically tweeted heartbreak over the plight of Africa's elephants mitigates my "controversial" opinion that firearms should be tightly regulated, whereas female reproductive organs should not.

Or maybe readers just like that I regularly tweet praise for other writers' work, and tweet about reading in general. Or maybe they like that I say what I really think. Or maybe they neither notice or care and the social media/sales connection is a total fluke.

There's no way to know for sure.

There's something frenetic—anxiety stoking, even—about the constant, immediate connection that I accept as a fact of modern life. But from this point forward I'm unplugging during vacations. I miss less, and enjoy myself and my kid more, when I don't have one eye on the phone.

How about you? Have you ever unplugged? Did you love it or loathe it?

*I made one exception to my world wide web blackout: I followed the news of DOMA's fall on Twitter. The Finnish state television news coverage was too brief to allow for proper savoring of that great moment in American history.


  1. I don't know...we live in a technological age. Our children will learn on more devices than we even know now. We limit our son's screen time (he is 6) and he is just as happy playing Lego or doing a word search puzzle or playing with his little brother as he is watching a show (he likes Yard Crashers) or playing a game on the Wii. I think that kids are drawn to the verboten so, instead we take a moderated approach (both as in 'everything in moderation' and in terms of moderating what he sees/does).

    Just like I like to take a break from too much of any one thing, there are days when I'm more unplugged than others. It's an ebb and flow, much like most of life.

    1. I think that sounds sensible and healthy... All things in moderation. I know as my little guy gets ordere he will discover screen games and other shows. What suprised me most was how much I didn't mind, indeed liked, disconnecting for a bit.