15 8 / 2011

Going Against the Grain On the Grid

Over the weekend the New York Times published an article, "Our Plugged in Summer." I was immediately intrigued by the title because it was different from other articles I have read lately where individuals or families vow to “unplug” or go “off the grid” for a period of time. Was I about to read an article about someone who was so addicted to technology they could not disconnect or a family that has so little to say to each other they spent their summer with their noses in their smartphones, Ipads or laptops?

The answer turned out to be none of the above. The author of the article, Bruce Feiler  was influenced by “the insistent finger wagging one now encounters that the only way to spend quality time with one’s children is to disengage from technology,” to do just the opposite:

I concocted a scheme. During weekends this summer, I would pursue the opposite of an unplugged vacation: I would check screens whenever I could. Not in the service of work, but in the service of play. I would crowd-source new ideas for car games and YouTube my picnic recipes. I would test the prevailing wisdom that the Internet spoils all the fun.

His idea intrigued me, so I read on. I wondered how did he do it? Did it work?  Mr. Feiler found many uses for staying plugged in during the summer. He used it as an outdoor education tool. His kids learned about sea turtle hatching from an online resource. He learned about bug prevention, grilling the perfect fish, and even how to fix his mother-in-law’s garbage disposal, just to name a few.

Mr. Feiler concluded that there were a few pitfalls but for the most part his experiment was a success. He found that he was able to use technology and social media as a way to learn and communicate  throughout the summer. He was able to teach his children new lessons and share his experiences with friends and family members who could not spend time with him physically.

I think Mr. Feiler’s experiment teaches an important lesson. Social Media and technology are not flawless but when used correctly can be a benefit in just about any situation. If Mr. Feiler had spent the summer checking his email and allowing his children to play video games for hours on end, that would be a failure to use his resources in the best way.

I give Mr. Feiler credit for questioning the articles and advice telling people to unplug. He took a different perspective and taught us all a lesson. It is easy to to tell people (especially when on vacation) to unplug or go off the grid but the reality is what difference would that make if everyone who did this ended spending time alone.

What do you think about Mr. Feiler’s experience? Do you believe people should unplug when on vacation?

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