Parents ... can you imagine unplugging your teenager for six months?
In an Associated Press story by Beth J. Harpaz, I learned the tale of Susan Maushart, a single mother who did just that. She took away her teenagers' Internet, TV, iPods, cell phones and video games for six months. Maushart has recorded the tale in a new book called "The Winter of Our Disconnect."
The family even did without power for the first week; Maushart thought that the return of power a week later would feel so good it might distract from the loss of the electronics.
Not surprisingly, the children were not happy. One even briefly went to live with her father. But at the end of the experiment, the kids appeared to have gained something. Son Bill spent the time playing saxophone and is now a music major in college. Daughter Anni now occasionally takes sabbaticals from Facebook on her own. Sussy, the daughter who briefly went to live with her father, eventually returned and saw her grades improve substantially during the six months.
Of course, Maushart did have an ace in the hole. She was a writer, and had planned all along to turn the experience into a book. She promised the kids a cut of the proceeds if they went along. Most parents don't have that option, but Maushart said some families may want to consider having a "screen-free" day once a week, a much less drastic approach.
Of course, part of any such equation is deciding whether or not your family is too plugged in to begin with.
Here's one possible sign. The marketing firm AIS Media did a recent survey and found that 27 percent of respondents say they've visited Facebook on a mobile device while in the bathroom.
A little more than half of those who admitted to Facebook in the loo were female (54.4 percent). Bathroom Facebook usage was highest in the 30-49 age range. The news release doesn't indicate if the survey included teenagers or just adults.
"We know that Facebook penetration in the US is above 43 percent," said Dr. Edward E. Rigdon, Professor of Marketing in the J. Mack Robinson College of Business at Georgia State University, in an AIS Media news release. "I imagine most people carry their phone with them, in pocket or purse. People receive emails on their phone alerting them to Facebook messages or postings, and many people respond by reflex. This study illustrates one of (what I consider to be) the four main ways in which marketing is changing -- it is becoming more ubiquitous. Marketing is everywhere, and anything can be marketing."
"While it may seem humorous to survey people about their Facebook usage while in the bathroom, the results underscore the proliferation of consumer social media usage and their strong need to stay connected", said AIS Media CEO Thomas Harpointner. "For businesses and brands, social media offers an opportunity to engage potential customers like never before."
At least one local church has a notice in its bulletin asking parishoners not to use text messaging, Twitter and so on during the service. I don't know whether this was a pre-emptive notice or whether the pastor had actually seen someone using their device in church.
New media can be a powerful and enjoyable tool. But it's important for users to recognize the need for limits.
--John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette and covers county government. He is also the author of the self-published novel "Soapstone." His personal web site is lakeneuron.com.