Monday, February 7, 2011

Book Review: The Winter of Our Disconnect

The Winter of Our Disconnect is the story of a single mother who decides that she and her three teenagers will spend a six-month season (fall through spring in Australia) completely unplugged.  She cancels their tv service, cell phone service, internet service, and removes everything with a screen from the house (including ipods, phones, gaming devices, televisions, and computers).  They can use computers as needed at school and at the public library, but nothing with a screen is allowed in the house.  It's a great premise for a book (which the author acknowledges she chose as a book premise as opposed to a "we just decided to do this" kind of thing).  Intermingled with the account of their completely wireless winter are background and research on the generation growing up dependant on digital media.

This book was alternately frustrating and enlightening for me.  At first, I found myself really aggravated by the idea that the "digital age" is somehow inherently bad.  The internet, especially, can be used in so many amazing ways.  Like anything else, it's something that requires self-control.  My initial impression was that the author somehow thought that the existence of the internet, mp3s, etc was somehow responsible for her children being unable to stop texting, watching, facebooking, etc.  Like any other form of entertainment, it's not "cable tv" or "the internet" that is responsible for over-use.  That's a self-control issue on the part of the person using it.

I also really felt like she used the whole "digital realm" as a scape-goat for what, in my opinion, was a lack of parenting.  If your teenage children are spending too much time in front of a screen, an easy way to fix that is to take it away.  If you don't want your kids to spend all their time holed up in the bedroom with the TV, don't give your kids a TV in the bedroom.  Place time limits on computer use.  Don't buy them a cell phone.  It just seems like common sense to me. 

However, I realized about halfway through that my opinion was coming from a pretty privileged viewpoint.  My parents were strict about how much time we spent on the computer, watching tv, etc.  But my parents were not divorced and my mom didn't work outside of the home.  So, around the halfway point, it really hit me how impossibly hard those rules are to enforce if you can't be home to monitor it.  Also, I have to remind myself that I am not a parent and that any judgments I pass down now will come back to haunt me the second I have kids.  I do, however, maintain that teens don't need tvs, computers, or cell phones in their bedrooms.  The vast majority of the world is getting along just fine without those things, along with electricity, shelter, and clean drinking water.  I promise, teens will be ok if they have to watch tv in the family room.  So that was enlightenment #1.

My second annoyance was the fact that I love the internet and my cell phone.  I'm a big girl and learned self-control a long time ago (except when it comes to chocolate).  I don't watch tons of tv and I don't live my life on the internet, but I have used it for some very important things - like getting my graduate degree.  Also, obviously blogging and reading other people's blogs.  And I used the internet to find some of my very best friends through an online book club.  My husband and I used the internet to meet other people in our city who have Great Danes and now we schedule play dates for our dogs.  I also love being able to use my phone to immediately look up a word or reference in a book that I don't know.  There are so many awesome things you can do online that really do encourage you to live your life, and not just virtually.  I originally felt like the positives were neglected by the author.

Major enlightenment #2 however, came with that frustration.  There are times when I find myself doing things online that I know I shouldn't be doing (especially texting while driving).  There is a feeling of pressure, like if I don't check Twitter RIGHT NOW I might be missing a conversation that I NEED to be a part of.  Or if I'm not checking my message boards every day and posting a certain amount, my friends might forget I exist.  Or if I don't reply to this text message this second, even though the light is green and traffic is heavy, I might miss something important.  Also, while I'm really good about not having my phone on me 24/7, my husband is not.  I would love to go out to dinner without the appearance of the iphone, even if it's being used to look up ingredients on the menu or movie showtimes for after dinner.  Knowing your husband is checking his Facebook updates takes away from the romance.

As far as the book itself is concerned, I think it was well done.  I liked the writing and had no issues with the author's research.  It really makes a book for me when an author presents their research well and cites their sources - and this author did an excellent job of that.  She does provide a mostly balanced look at technology and how it is changing culture, although it does lean towards the critical.  The criticisms, however, fit well with the nature of the book and the premise behind the plot. 

I can't say the book didn't drag in a few spots, but it wasn't boring, if that makes sense.  It was like a lot of research-driven non-fiction in places - somewhat dry and full of facts, but interesting facts.  It took me longer to read than it typically takes to read a memoir, but I think the presence of all the research and facts balanced that out.  One minor annoyance - the author uses internet lingo and emoticons liberally.  I'm not a fan of older people trying to sound young.  Then I realized, I am over 25 and I still use those things as well.  I am well on my way to becoming that person.  Enlightenment #3.


  1. This sounds interesting. I briefly thought of doing this kind of thing a while back (when I was going through a self-sufficient,save the environment type phase), but decided lack of internet would be a baaaaad thing! I totally agree with you that teenagers do not need tvs, consoles, pcs etc in their rooms though. None of my family did growing up,and I think we've all ended up more creative and resourceful people for it! Intriguing post!

  2. I loved your annoyances and enlightenments Julie. Your points about parenting and then the backtracking. :) Yes, I'm sure many things that I have said will come back to haunt me.
    It's strange because lately I have been feeling like Facebook (as much as I love it) has become a sort of false sense of community for me. I'm sort of starting to get into twitter and other stuff... At the same time that technology I think has helped me to stay connected to YOU, which I am soooo thankful for. I think those are good things to think about, and that we need to remember not to throw out the baby with the bathwater :)

  3. I've been wanting to read this. So interesting!

  4. I'd be interested to see if there are any changes to this book for the American market. The author is American but was living in Australia when she wrote and published this book initially.
    I am a mother to four children, my oldest is 14 - she would live on MSN, facebook and YouTube if we let her. Despite having some reasonable restrictions in place, we have just had to restrict things further for various reasons, but removing it is almost impossible. Teachers now often ask that classwork, homework and assignments are done on computer or sent via email. Even my 7 year old has homework that needs to be done on the computer. I know I rely on technology for so much (including reading) the thought of cutting it out gives me the heebie jeebies.
    Since writing my [URL="']review[/URL] - where I stated no Tv's in the bedroom, my oldest bought herself a small second hand TV/DVD combo with her Christmas gift money - she can't get reception in her room for TV but can watch DVD's
    It's just not as easy as it seems LOL

  5. I'm intrigued. I have a copy of this but wasn't sure it was for me, but it sounds like it can inspire some revelations, which makes it worth the read, in my mind.

  6. Thanks for the review! It would be good for all of us and extremely difficult to give up screens for 6 months. I would love to try it with my techy husband and our 5 kids 14-5. Maybe someday!


  7. This is a very boring book unfortunatly. she makes one main point per chapter but she just keeps on talking. she also yes uses some interesting information but there is just way too much making the book boring and dull. i would give it a two out of ten. burn every copy of it if you can please