This column first appeared in the February 9, 2020 PRINT edition of The Vindicator and Tribune-Chronicle newspapers:
It’s a tale as old as, well, America.
Democrats and Republicans rarely agree on anything, and it’s newsworthy when they do.
Today, that agreement is overwhelming bipartisan distrust of social media.
This distrust may come as some surprise to leaders at Facebook and other social media companies. They claim to have implemented new security and privacy measures, and tried to stop fake news over the last few years.
They did this, in part, regain our trust and win back daily active users.
A new study from the Pew Research Center looked at this lack of trust in social media. A large majority of Americans are familiar with the major social platforms (e.g., Facebook) and many say they still use social media to find political news, even if they don’t trust them.
The study was conducted as part of Pew’s ongoing Election News Pathways project, which examines our news habits, our attitudes about what we hear and perceive, and what we think we know about the 2020 election.
“Indeed, Facebook, the most widely used of the six social media sites examined when it comes to getting political and election news, is distrusted by about six in 10 U.S. adults,” said report authors Mark Jurkowitz and Amy Mitchell.
Nearly half said they distrust Twitter, and four in 10 said they skeptical of Instagram.
Some Americans who said they get their news through social media are equally reliant on it.
“Overall, 18 percent of U.S. adults cite social media as the ‘most common’ way they access political news — relying on it more than other platforms such as TV, print, radio or news websites and apps,” Jurkowitz and Mitchell said.
Adults who rely mostly on social media for political news also had more trust than others in platforms like Facebook and Twitter. They continue to use social media as a place to get political news. They’re less concerned about the spread of fake news.
Video-sharing site YouTube was not immune.
“YouTube is also distrusted by greater portions of each party than trusted,” Jurkowitz and Mitchell said. About 15 percent of Republicans and 19 percent of Democrats say they trust it.
“Republicans and Democrats also largely agree about LinkedIn and Reddit, where distrust exceeds trust in both parties by at least a two-to-one ratio.”
Coincidentally, when Pew researchers asked voters about their trust of specific platforms, a large percentage said they hadn’t even heard of some companies.
For example, 27 percent were unfamiliar with LinkedIn and nearly 40 percent didn’t know about Reddit.
Unfamiliarity wasn’t a problem for all platforms.
“Of the six social media sites examined in this study, most are known to a large majority of Americans,” Jurkowitz and Mitchell said. “About nine in 10 U.S. adults say they have heard of’ Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram.”
Don’t be so quick to equate this distrust of social media with “other” media. When it comes to trust in specific news sources, the chasm between the parties is as wide as their trust of President Trump (e.g., CNN vs. Fox News).
Still, anyone who has broken trust with another person knows it takes time to repair.
Social media are no different.
Although Facebook and others have tried to eliminate fake news, improve security and protect users, they clearly have a long way to go before they earn back our trust when it comes to politics and news.
This column first appeared in the February 2, 2020 PRINT edition of The Vindicator and Tribune-Chronicle newspapers:
It might be depressing to think about what our dying words or wishes will be, but that’s where my head is right now.
I didn’t know legendary basketball star Kobe Bryant. I wasn’t a huge fan, but I respected his accomplishments and I was always impressed with stories of his financial success post-basketball.
The day before his death, Bryant was passed on the NBA’s all-time scoring list by Lebron James. Bryant took to Twitter to react to James’ achievement:
“Continuing to move the game forward @KingJames. Much respect my brother” followed by the hashtag #33644 to represent the number of points it took James to pass Bryant.
Last words from celebrities and other personalities can be uplifting, but some are peculiar, and others are disputed for authenticity.
Did so-and-so really say that?
Unless we are there, we’ll never know for sure.
We rely on witnesses to share last words. One can only assume that some have been altered to preserve some dignity for the deceased.
Most last words make complete sense to those that hear them, especially if you know something about the person who spoke them.
For example, Nostradamus reportedly made one final prediction with his last words, “Tomorrow, at sunrise, I shall no longer be here.”
Other obvious last words come from death row, often filled with apology and regret. Some are more bit more sarcastic.
When asked if he had any final requests, convicted murderer James W. Rodgers said, “Bring me a bullet-proof vest” before being shot to death by a firing squad.
On a more spiritual note, some last words make us wonder what that person might be sensing or wondering as they pass on. According to his sister, Steve Jobs’ last words were, “Oh, wow. Oh, wow. Oh, wow.”
But what if no one is there to hear them? What if no one reports those words?
What’s probably most true about our last words is that no one will remember the last thing we say.
When my dad passed away 10 years ago, I wasn’t there. So I asked family members if they heard the last thing he said. “I think it was, ‘Get me some tea,'” my mother reported.
This made me smile because my father was obsessed with iced tea. Did he really say that, or did my mother tell me this because she knew I would smile?
The last thing I remember my father saying was, “I love you, too” as I left him for the last time at a nursing home.
The beautiful thing about social media is that we can use it for this very purpose — to capture our thoughts, inspirations and reflections on the world around us. We can use Twitter and other platforms to uplift and praise the accomplishments of those around us.
We can use it to share our love of life.
This column first appeared in the January 26, 2020 PRINT edition of The Vindicator and Tribune-Chronicle newspapers:
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg knows something about New Year resolutions.
At the beginning of every year for the last decade, he’s set a new personal challenge.
That changed this year.
“My goal was to grow in new ways outside my day-to-day work running Facebook,” Zuckerberg posted to Facebook earlier this month. “These led me to learn Mandarin, code an AI assistant for my home...and get more comfortable with public speaking.”
This year, however, his new approach was to set decade-long challenges.
Most people would scoff at this approach. Of course, those are the same people who set resolutions on January 1st and forget about them on January 2nd.
I know this because I’m “most people.”
Forgetting for a moment about the scandals Facebook has faced, Zuckerberg has some credibility to back his 10-year challenge. After all, he learned to speak a new language and programmed a robot.
“This decade I'm going to take a longer term focus,” Zuckerberg said. “Rather than having year-to-year challenges, I've tried to think about what I hope the world and my life will look in 2030 so I can make sure I'm focusing on those things.”
To set this kind of challenge, it’s important to think about our personal lives look like in 2030. I’ll be 60, eyeing retirement. My kids will be graduating, with careers, probably married, and—dare I say it—with a grandkid or two for their old Dad.
Those kinds of aspirations aren’t all that different for Zuckerberg, with the exception of a few loftier goals.
“By then, if things go well, my daughter Max will be in high school, we'll have the technology to feel truly present with another person no matter where they are, and scientific research will have helped cure and prevent enough diseases to extend our average life expectancy by another 2.5 years,” he added.
Here are some challenges Zuckerberg thinks are important for the next decade.
Generational Challenge. Zuckerberg foresees complicated issues for the next generation of Facebook users, and they have little to do with social media. These include climate change, education costs, housing, and healthcare. He put it to the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative “to focus more on funding and giving a platform to younger entrepreneurs, scientists, and leaders” to identify solutions.
Private Social Platform. Facebook is big (maybe too big), and Zuckerberg knows it even if he won’t admit it. “Being part of such a large community creates its own challenges and makes us crave intimacy,” he said. “Our digital social environments will feel very different over the next 5+ years, re-emphasizing private interactions and helping us build the smaller communities we all need in our lives.”
New Computing Platform. The last three decades have been defined by technological advancements. In the 1990s, it was desktop computing. The 2000s gave us the web. The 2010s, mobile device. What’s in store for the 2020s?
Zuckerberg thinks we should be able to be anywhere and everywhere. “The ability to be ‘present’ anywhere will...address some of the biggest social issues of our day, like ballooning housing costs and inequality of opportunity by geography.”
These are important challenges for all to consider, not just Zuckerberg, and they’ll take more than money to resolve. He’ll need time to change hearts and minds.
Let’s hope ten years is enough time to make these things happen.
This column first appeared in the January 19, 2020 PRINT edition of The Vindicator and Tribune-Chronicle newspapers:
Star Trek Capt. James T. Kirk had amazing technology at his fingertips.
Cloaking devices and holodecks were cool, but they didn’t seem nearly as cool and accessible for my little 9-year-old brain as the wrist communicator.
I wanted that wrist communicator, but we didn’t have much money for toys. So like most kids, I improvised by drawing a band around my wrist that resembled Captain Kirk’s device.
To be fair, I didn’t jump on the Star Trek fan train until the first movies were produced in the late 1970s and ’80s. Wrist communicators weren’t really a “thing” in the TV series.
Diehard Trekkies (aka, “real” Star Trek fans) wax poetic about flip-phone-like communicators used by Kirk and crew. Those were the stalwart Starfleet communication devices.
They were also the creative precursor to the modern day smartphone.
Like other Star Trek tech, it’s easy to point to those early images and think, “Wow, that really looks like (fill-in-the-blank)…” technology that we use today.
This is absolutely true of the wrist communicator.
In science fiction lore, wrist tech predates 1979’s “Star Trek: The Motion Picture.” Clearly, authors and artists have been thinking for a long time about what this device would look like or do.
Even famous comic book detective Dick Tracy sported a two-way radio on his wrist.
Fast-forward to 2019, and it seems the wrist communicator has found a real life home in our technology toolbox.
Last week, the Pew Research Center reported that one-in-five U.S. adults wear a smart watch or wearable fitness tracker.
Or at least they say they do.
That last part is important. While it’s interesting to learn that more of us are using devices on a regular basis, most say they’re using wrist tech to track fitness goals.
It’s also important to note that Pew collected this data last summer and not last week, right after the start of the New Year, when many people launch new fitness and weight loss goals.
Some people may have received new wrist tech for the holidays. So, if Pew had collected this data on Jan. 1, their results may have been skewed a bit higher (as in, more than one-in-five saying they regularly use these devices).
Pew’s research also revealed some limitations people have to adopting this tech.
“As is true with many other forms of digital technology, use of these devices varies substantially by socioeconomic factors,” said Emily Vogels, Pew research associate.
“Around three-in-ten Americans living in households earning $75,000 or more a year (31 percent) say they wear a smart watch or fitness tracker on a regular basis, compared with 12 percent of those whose annual household income falls below $30,000.”
Vogels also noted differences in terms of educational background. College graduates adopt wrist devices at higher rates than those who have a high school education or less.
Pew’s study focused on adoption of this tech or fitness, so it’s still unclear how many are actually using their wrist devices to communicate–with other human beings.
While we create and adopt tech from our science fiction past, it’s clear that we have yet to see its full potential. But based on our use of these new technologies, we’re getting closer to using it in way that would make Captain Kirk proud.
This column first appeared in the January 12, 2020 PRINT edition of The Vindicator and Tribune-Chronicle newspapers:
Twitter’s Director of Product Suzanne Xie introduced new options for limiting replies to our tweets at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week.
If you’re not a Twitter user, here’s what this means. When we post a tweet, we’ll have the option of deciding who (if anyone) can reply.
The “Conversation Participants” feature will provide us choices for the kind of replies we’d like our tweets to receive.
In the current format, everyone can reply. Authors already have the option to hide certain replies (i.e., harassment, threats, etc.) that viewers can opt to reveal and, if needed, report.
With the Conversation Participants tool, authors will have four options for replies, including:
This all seems fairly straightforward and good for users until politics are introduced to the mix.
Keep in mind that Twitter is testing this change now, in the heat of a presidential election.
It’s difficult to know how some of our political leaders and candidates will react when they have access to these new settings.
Consider President Trump’s use of Twitter.
Trump is arguably one of the most prolific leaders in Twitter’s young life. One could also argue that Twitter continues to sees regular daily active traffic because of Trump’s tweets.
As a political agnostic (at least in public forums like this column), I get to examine both the good and bad in Trump’s tweets without fear of praising or bashing him.
The “good” is that our First Amendment appears to be intact, evidenced by the space Twitter and other platforms provide for free expression. This space is for everyone, from our friends and family to celebrities, athletes and, of course, political leaders. Regardless of status, there’s an opportunity for us to all interact in this same space.
The bad is that our posts, including those from Trump, could be viewed as more divisive than open to debate.
Many of Trump’s tweets are meant to be divisive. They’re designed to bolster supporters and anger opponents.
Some view Trump’s tweets and argue that he encourages debate.
Others look at his tweets as lacking in the kind of demeanor we expect from leaders. After all, he’s known for blocking users who disagree with him. So if his intent is to stimulate debate, silencing some voices seems counter-intuitive.
And therein lies the problem with Twitter’s Conversation Participants feature. How Trump and other candidates may use (or abuse) it is causing some concern among Twitter users.
The fear is that Trump may set his tweets with the “Group” option and permit only those who agree with him to reply to his posts, or worse, set them as “Statement” to block all replies.
It could also lead another court challenge. Six month ago, a federal appeals court ruled Trump was not permitted to block his critics on Twitter. Trump violated the First Amendment when he blocked individual users who were critical of him.
If he chooses to use the “Group” option, it could be that Trump and other leaders may find themselves, yet again, defending their interpretation of the First Amendment.
This column first appeared in the January 5, 2020 PRINT edition of The Vindicator and Tribune-Chronicle newspapers:
Predictions are an art form. They’re part science, part luck.
Mostly it’s just fun to predict the future.
Because of this, some predictions are easy to make. For example, predicting what will happen in social media and technology over the next year is a fairly simple, entertaining process.
To do this, we research tech trends and pathways, and make assumptions about what might happen next.
Many of my friends predict social media trends the same way experts predict the weather. Meteorologists have fine-tuned the art of weather predicting to a nearly exact science.
Before modern day meteorology, we relied on strategies like, “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky at morning, sailors warning.” I still recite that line to my kids. See a beautiful sunset? Tomorrow’s weather will be great. See a red sky in the morning? Today’s weather will be bad.
The point is, true or not, we no longer rely solely on old unscientific methods.
But that doesn’t make it any less fun to see the outcome.
This is certainly true of Punxsutawney Phil.
I’ve driven through Punxsutawney (a.k.a Punxy) over the past 20 years to visit my wife’s family. When we pass through Punxy, she regales us with stories of her Groundhog Day jitney service, how she’d shuttle revelers from downtown to Gobblers Knob to hear Phil’s prediction.
In all those trips to Punxy, I never once participated in Goundhog Day. I missed my chance to stand in freezing temperatures at 7:00 A.M. I missed warm cups of hot cocoa and pancake breakfasts that are apparently important parts of a proper Groundhog Day celebration.
I missed all the fun.
Most of us can probably guess Phil’s prediction every year, but that’s not the point. People show up to see Phil because it’s entertaining. Ironically, aside from poor weather conditions, there’s little harm in playing along.
So, like Phil and the great people of Punxy, I’ve had some fun making some less-than-bold predictions over the years about where I think social media and tech is headed.
Thanks, in part, to guidance from great tech journalists and bloggers at publications like Tech Advisor, Wired, and MIT’s Technology Review, I’ve done okay.
Two predictions I continue to believe in: virtual/augmented reality (VR/AR) and enhanced privacy and security.
First, as fellow tech prognosticators have suggested, VR/AR continue to grow in term of offerings (e.g., applications, games) and users. Prices for some midlevel VR headsets are now more affordable, and the number of free applications on Google Play and Apple has more than doubled over the last year.
This signals a great year ahead for the VR/AR industry.
Second, privacy and regulation will continue to dog social media. As we enter into another election year, most platforms look and feel different than they did in 2016. But most are still not the spaces most of us need to have meaningful debates.
With increased oversight and self-regulation, many platforms will continue to make valiant attempts at creating open, positive, productive environments for voters, candidates and campaigns—and hopefully make us feel a little safer.
Whether your predictions are more luck than science, just remember there’s usually no harm guessing. Just like dowloading apps or using new tech, it’s fun to predict, and most of us need more fun in our lives.
This column first appeared in the December 29, 2019 PRINT edition of The Vindicator and Tribune-Chronicle newspapers:
From politics, to privacy, to protection problems, 2019 was tumultuous year in world of social media.
Just when we thought it was safe to revisit our favorite social platforms, reports of new security breaches and record-setting fines emerged, as did concerns over efforts (or lack thereof) to protect our kids.
Here are a few of the top social stories from 2019:
1. Google/YouTube’s Record Day. As Facebook continues to dig out of the crater it dug in the wake of the 2016 election, other platforms have experienced their own pain. Even with the heaps of negative backlash they endured, Facebook was not the leading culprit this year.
2019’s “Social Media Bad Guy” title goes to Google and YouTube who agreed to pay a record fine of $170 million for alleged violations of the Children’s Privacy Act. It’s not the first time the Federal Trade Commission levied a fine against the Internet giant. In 2012, Google paid out a (then) record $22 million fine to the FTC.
The new fine is pennies-on-the-dollar for Google, but the decision will have long-lasting ripple effects—not because of the money lost, but because of the new rules YouTube will have to implement to protect young viewers.
Many of the leading creators of children’s content will almost certainly suffer in terms of monetization. Those who make child-centered videos can’t include personalized ads, and can only collect limited data.
Of course, those who will suffer the most are the parents who will now struggle to find new, safe, educational, entertaining, and (mostly) free content on the world’s largest streaming video provider.
2. Hiding Like Counts. Top platforms like Instagram and Facebook are dabbling with “hidden like count” algorithms. These tests center on a desire to build healthier social environments by protecting our mental well-being.
Instagram started hiding likes for some users in Canada in early-2019, and later in six other countries. Facebook began hiding likes in Australia in late-2019. U.S. users will likely see these changes on both platforms in 2020.
But not everyone is happy with the change.
Content creators criticized it claiming they use like counts to attract partners and sponsors. However, Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri said, “We’ll make decisions that hurt (Instagram) if they help our user’s health and wellbeing.”
3. Facebook Is (Still) #1. Remember your friends who said they were quitting Facebook? Well, if that happened, Facebook found a way to recoup those losses with new users.
This is likely because it’s still the best choice if your goal is to connect with others.
Those closest to us often use Facebook. So we often turn to easily accessible applications to manage those relationships. The top choice on that list for many people is Facebook—on a smartphone.
According to the Pew Research Center, 81-percent of U.S. adults report owning a smartphone device. That percentage is expected to rise over the next decade as a new generation of smartphone users enter the market.
Popular social applications like Instagram and Messenger use Facebook login credentials for access, while merchants use the Facebook login as a starting point for selling goods and services.
For these reasons and more, it’s not hard to understand why users still “like” Facebook, even if some won’t admit it publicly.
This column first appeared in the December 22, 2019 PRINT edition of The Vindicator and Tribune-Chronicle newspapers:
Hope all is well up north and that plans for the annual all-nighter are nearly complete.
I’m writing to apologize for the lack of Christmas wish lists you’re seeing from my kids over the last few years.
Yes, they still believe in you. All four of them were super excited when I brought home a life-size inflatable yard decoration of you, and they still sing Christmas carols that reference your jolliness.
Our 7-year-old doesn’t always make good choices, so wisely, he fears you (in a healthy way).
All this aside, they’ve opted to stop writing to you. The reason: online shopping.
At first I blamed Jeff Bezos, but I’ve come to realize I’m part of the problem.
Our kids are in high demand at the holidays. It’s not just you who’s excited to spoil them. Even before we hit Thanksgiving dinner, family have started asking them what they want for Christmas.
I’m OK with that, but online shopping has allowed them to cut out the middleman. Instead of sitting at the table and carefully recording the names of toys from paper catalogs, they tell the aunts and uncles, “Dad’ll send you a link to my Amazon list.”
Of course my reaction to our youngest kids (they’re our most fervent Santa believers) was, “Well, how do you know Santa will see it?”
This generated two unexpected responses.
The first came from my 7-year-old.
“You said he sees and knows everything,” he replied. “So, he already knows what’s on my Amazon list.”
The second came from my 9-year-old.
“Even if he doesn’t know, you can share it with him, right?” Sadie asked. “You shared it with everyone else. Don’t you have his email address?”
(Note to self: find Santa’s email address)
None of this would matter if we just wrote normal letters like we did when I was a kid. You know, good ol’ fashioned paper and pencil with the occasional crayon?
Instead, everything is high-tech these days.
Jeff (sorry, Mr. Bezos) has certainly made it easier for all of the gift-givers. But I fear he’s made wish list writing a little too easy and impersonal.
Remember that letter I wrote to you when I was 8? I know you do. It was a brilliant piece of prose and clearly foreshadowed my career as a newspaper columnist.
My heart and soul went into that letter. It was a good year for me, as evidenced by the bounty that awaited me under the tree. But in that letter, I also fully admitted to having some naughty moments.
That part is missing from the Amazon option. We miss the opportunity to self-reflect. We only get to select some items that Amazon carries — bonus for givers if you pick an Amazon Prime item.
For many, self-reflection is an important component to our end-of-year holiday celebrations. We look back to count our blessings, to thank others for their support and to show love and generosity in return.
I might be a little late in telling you this. You’ve probably already picked out presents for my kids.
Just know that next year we’ll try a little harder.
Rather than just list all the stuff we want in the letters (or email) we write to you, we’ll take time for a little introspection.
P.S. Yes, I know you call me "Little" Adam, and I'm okay with that. Just remember that I'm now 6-foot-8, 320-pounds if you're plan to wrap a Pittsburgh Steelers hoodie for me.
This column first appeared in the December 15, 2019 PRINT edition of The Vindicator and Tribune-Chronicle newspapers:
I think I have polar bear blood.
During most winter days, I feel slightly less comfortable indoors than out.
This is probably because of the “malfunctioning” thermostat that slowly increases our home’s temperature throughout the day. I can only assume it’s broken because no one ever admits to changing it.
This is also because the cold weather suits me, as do most winter activities. Short winter hikes, sledding and snowball fights, and yes, even shoveling snow are fun for me. It’s good exercise for polar bears.
I also enjoy winter travel, driving to see family and friends.
Obviously this last activity is a little tricky for a few reasons.
In the early part of winter driving season, it takes time for some of us to remember how to navigate snow-covered roads. Our road conditions in northeast Ohio are, at times, treacherous.
Even with great road crews—and we have some of the best in the world—it’s tough for any plow or salt truck to stay ahead of rapidly changing weather conditions.
But have no fear. For those of us who accept the challenges of winter driving, there’s good news from the social media front.
Long time readers may recall my love affair with the social GPS app, Waze. Anyone who listens to me prattle on about driving directions and conditions know that using this app is the only way I can travel.
Without it, I would be literally and figuratively lost.
Waze is constantly upping its game, adding new features and providing real-time updates about road conditions around the world. Well, most of the world—more than 185 countries—even a few with real polar bears.
A new feature released this week makes driving a lot easier for Waze users.
We can now see up-to-the-second snow warnings for roads that crews haven’t reached, and instant reports from other users that help Waze reroute us to better road and weather conditions.
Waze boasts a great user-friendly interface.
If you’re already familiar with the app, look for this new feature by selecting the “Report” icon, then “Hazard,” then “Weather.” Under the weather hazard, you’ll see options for fog, hail, flood, ice on road, and unplowed road.
Of course, Waze is best known for community-fed features that include warnings about speed traps and red light cameras, and ever-changing road and traffic conditions like accidents and construction.
It’s best to use Waze by entering your destination first. Let the app know where you’re headed so that it knows how to reroute you if the road ahead looks a little dicey.
The social GPS was built around the same platform used for Google Maps (Google also owns Waze), so chances are, Waze will work in most locations with good network access.
Waze worked the Virginia Department of Transportation to build in this new feature. The hope is that these reports will assist road crews, like ODOT and local agencies and municipalities, more quickly address the roads that need the greatest attention.
It might also give first responders an added tool for reaching those in need just a bit faster.
Polar bears and other winter drivers can download Waze from the Google Play or Apple’s App Store. It’s free and has minimal in-app advertisements.
This column first appeared in the December 8, 2019 PRINT edition of The Vindicator and Tribune-Chronicle newspapers:
I have an eclectic list of parenting specialists. They’re really good at a job that’s incredibly and increasingly difficult. They care about their kids. They resolve daily conflicts, run to-do lists like efficiency experts, all while maintaining some sanity.
Some are family members, or parents of best friends. More recently, I’ve found some parenting models among my neighbors.
Case in point: Kristen Rock. We’re community neighbors. We have friends-in-common. We see each other at parties. Our families are nearly identical in terms of wedding dates, number of children, and ages.
We’re also Facebook friends of course.
When it comes to parenting, Kristen is my new “Saint.”
Okay, even Kristen would consider the word Saint an over-exaggeration, but she certainly ranks up there with parents who’ve tried a radical parenting strategy and lived to tell about it.
Her recent strategy: cutting the family’s internet and cable service, seemingly overnight and without warning.
First, Kristen will tell you it’s not as easy to just cancel these services. Beyond the hour-long phone call with Spectrum customer service, there was concern about how her kids would react.
After all, this was not meant to be some Draconian move to punish her kids for playing Fortnite too much, or watching inappropriate programs on YouTube.
It was about gaining control. It was about reconnecting as a family, even if it meant disconnecting from some technology (we’ll get back to the “some” part in a moment).
“Screen time was in conflict with our idealistic family priorities,” Kristen said. “For our family, we want our kids to be reading every day. We want them practicing, to be playing outside.”
“The things we needed as a family were in total conflict because of screens.”
Kristen shared with me the pros and cons with cutting the cords—a list she made with Jason the night before.
It’s also important to note that they kept “some” access. Mom and Dad kept smartphone data plans, and activated hot spots when necessary.
One big pro: cost savings.
“We went 80 days without (cable and internet). I looked at our bill. It’s $250-a-month. That’s $3 thousand-a-year.”
She estimated they cut screen time by 50-percent. Basic channels were a mainstay for family viewing, with the occasional DVD from a library for movie nights.
“When the kids came home from school, it was Family Feud or Ellen.” When commercials were added to the mix, “the pace was kind of relaxing,” she added.
Another pro: boredom. “Without (technology), the kids got a little bit bored. That was good. I want my kids to be bored sometimes because it forces them to look for other things to do.”
The kids started reading for pleasure, but it was also good for the adults, too. “I couldn’t watch the news at 10:30 at night, which was really refreshing.”
Some cons: limited access to sports content, no Google Home access, added stress on smartphones, and difficulty with planning travel.
“We also had to rethink our family movie night,” she added. “We had to get a little creative.”
Would they do it again?
Kristen said the pros definitely outweighed the cons. In fact, the Rocks are already thinking ahead to the next 80 days they’ll take a break from internet and cable.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is professor and chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA. He researches and writes about communication and relationships, parenting and sports. He writes a weekly column for The Vindicator newspaper on social media and society.