My family recently went a week without Internet.
“Cutting the cord” on cable TV, we lost service switching services. (See the end for details on our switch.) So began our social experiment: What happens when a family of a five — Mom, Dad, middle-schooler, third-grader and toddler — hops off the Internet for a week? Here’s what went down. Warning, it’s kinda cheesy. (Have you shut off Internet at home? I’d love to hear your experiences.)
Disconnecting Internet connected us as a family. Not that we aren’t close, we are, but shutting down WIFI led directly to the wholesome activities you’d imagine.
Day 1, minutes after the initial shock, we were sitting around a table playing a board game. Laughing. It was like a frickin’ commercial. In the middle of the fun I looked at my wife uneasily. Why don’t we do this more?
Over the rest of the week, we went to the library, checked out books, and even got tickets for an author appearance. More laughing. More together time.
We were more creative, playing music, drawing and painting.
We read actual books. Really. (I warned you this is cheesy.)
And there was what we didn’t do. We didn’t spread out across the house to our individual screens, imbibing YouTube videos, Facebook and Clash of Clans. It smacked me one night as we all sat together with bowls of popcorn watching a DVD on one screen. Growing up we had a TV — as in one. (Does anyone remember renting a VCR to watch movies? We did that for quite awhile.) For a night, we were back in the old days.
It wasn’t just the kids. My wife and I both had phones to stay connected, but our digital diet was slashed. We were more available. And, without cable TV, we used our binge-watching hours talking and getting things done around the house.
It’s painful to admit … we were a better family.
It wasn’t picture perfect. Cutting the kids off from WIFI was expressed to us as a hardship far beyond reality. They’re not on the Internet constantly, but knowing they couldn’t be on the Internet had a psychological impact.
Our toddler asked daily to see “Lion Guard,” even though, as far as we could remember, we’d never watched “Lion Guard” at our house. He started pointing at our TV saying, “Lion Guard … no … TV broken.”
Our third-grader hated not having the option of being online, but also easily switched to playing outside or pulling out the Legos.
We missed the second-to-last-ever Downton Abbey and had to endure everyone talking about “Lady Mary” without knowing, or wanting to know, what they were talking about.
There were real world issues. Our middle-schooler needed Internet to finish homework assignments throughout the week, though not nearly as often as she proclaimed she would when learning her disconnected fate.
Truthfully, I didn’t really disconnect. I had my iPhone all week for work emails, news, games, texts, Facebook. But I did get to see: we’re wired to being wired.
We didn’t hesitate to reconnect when the Comcast technician arrived, though, hopefully, with eyes a little wider open.
I think we’re addicted to Internet. Maybe it’s not a real addiction, like smoking, but cutting off WIFI was uncomfortable for us all, even the 2-year-old. (And, more and more, science believes Internet addiction is real.)
And a WIFI-free home brought us closer together, at least for a week. I’m not sure how this plays out over a longer period of time. My wife and I both need Internet for our jobs, and even the kids need to be online for school. But do we need constant connectivity? Should we jump online at any impulse? Is that healthy?
Let me add here, working through this column makes me feel pretty fortunate. I have all sorts of choices here many, many people do not. This feels like a first-world problem, but I think there are real issues at play here for families. Maybe they’re no different than when I played Nintendo for hours back in 1987, but this constant connectedness does seem to impede interpersonal connections. I know other parents who struggle with “screen time,” and I just messaged (online, of course) someone about this column and they were baffled at why anyone would shut off Internet at home. “The idea makes me shudder.” And a few lines down, “I MUST HAVE INTERNET.” Maybe you have similar issues.
We’re trying some technology to address dependence on technology. Today I ordered Circle, which is a device that lets you “pause” WIFI to a home or individual devices. It also says it can track and limit screen time, shut devices down at bed time, and comes with all sorts of parental controls to prevent access to inappropriate materials. It may be just what we need. I won’t know for a few weeks because, right now, they’re sold out.
I promised an explanation of why we shut off Internet. It’s not a great story and I didn’t want to slow down the story at the top, but here’s what happened.
We were loyal Uverse subscribers, but they kept ballooning our payments as the special offers ran out. We recently hit $210 per month for TV and Internet (no phone), and that just seemed absurd. Rather than call up and fight with them again, we researched “cord cutting.”
My wife and I love certain shows, like Game of Thrones, but we’re not big live sports watchers, so it seemed doable. We’ve tried out several streaming devices and settled on an Apple TV with a subscription to Netlfix (and maybe Hulu, we’ll see).
For service, we held our breath and signed up for Comcast. The much-maligned provider offers a $58 per month cord-cutting package with Internet, local TV channels and HBO (though only on a laptop or mobile device). The price is only good for a year and we’ll probably get the same balloon payment issue as Uverse, but we’ll take it for now. We got to a bad start when Comcast sent us a box to install knowing that we couldn’t successfully install it without a technician. That’s where we ran into the trouble. I cancelled Uverse, but Comcast couldn’t send a technician for a week. We fell into our experiment by no choice of our own.
Comcast has been fine since the installation went through. Service is as promised, and its Xfinity hotspots around Metro Detroit are useful. As a friend reminded, though, it’s never signing up that’s an issue with customer service. Problems usually show up when you try to leave.
And, since the Internet and I can write forever, I’ll give a positive review to the Apple TV. The interface is nice, it’s probably the best remote I’ve ever used, and the AirPlay feature with phones and laptops is seamless. It’s more expensive than the Roku, which we’ve also used and liked, but Apple’s user-friendly styling makes the price difference worthwhile.
We just need Comcast to create an Xfinity app for the Apple TV and we’ll be perfectly set up to cut the cord without cutting much of anything out of our digital world.
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