The Wired Family: Fixing the Disconnect

In homes filled with gadgets and screens, we learn to disconnect to reconnect.

ByCLAIRE SHIPMAN via via logo
April 19, 2010, 11:00 PM

June 30, 2010— -- Juggling computer screens, laptops and cell phones every morning, technology and food both figure on the breakfast menu in the San Francisco home of Kord and Brenda Campbell.

"I will grab my iPad and phone as soon as I get up and go to make coffee," Kord said. His wife, Brenda, said thoughout the day she's checking e-mail, texting and logging on to Facebook.

Their son, 16-year-old Conner, has a PC, an Apple laptop and an iPhone. Even 8-year-old Lily is plugged in.

"I go on Youtube sometimes," she said, before demonstrating how she plays music and movies.

As first reported by The New York Times' Matt Richtel, the Campbells are an extreme example of a condition shared by so many Americans: technology overload.

CLICK HERE to read the New York Times' original report. CLICK HERE to see how Claire Shipman did getting her own family to unplug and then CLICK HERE for tips to disconnect and take your family back.

How addicted to their gadgets are they?

Their snazzy electronics hijacked a recent family vacation to Carmel, California.

"We got there, and I was expecting to go to dinner and we didn't," Brenda said. "We ended up having a technology night; we all just sat on our devices."

"My dad was having these meetings on the phone while we were at our Carmel trip, and it was like 'Dad, you've got to stop!'" Lily said.

CLICK HERE to watch our extended report.

It's pretty obvious what this digital addiction does to family life, but what our brains?

"I think it's too early to know," Steve Yantis, professor of psychological and brain sciences at John Hopkins University, told "Good Morning America." "I think that it could well be that there are changes that are quite persistent and hard to overcome."

Multitasking the way Kord does -- usually with two different chat programs and Skype running nonstop -- is supposed to be a good thing, right? According to recent brain research, that assumption is false.

"If you have a task that requires decision making, of comprehension, you can't really do two things at the same time," Yantis said.

The parts of the brain that process auditory information and visual information, for example, are in two different areas, and MRI studies have shown that only one can dominate at a time. So if you think you can successfully talk on your cell phone and work on your computer, research says you can't.

Connor learned that for himself last year when his grades went down.

"I will sit there in class and look at my phone behind a text book," he said.

"People who tend to use lots of media simultaneously are more distractible and have a more difficult time switching between tasks," Yantis said.

Taking an 'Internet Sabbath'

This attempt to juggle all these gadgets and all this information seems unprecedented, but that's not necessarily true according to Bill Powers, the author of a new book called "Hamlet's BlackBerry." The way Powers sees it, overconsumption of the new new thing dates back to Shakespeare.

"When the printing press came along, people all of a sudden felt this need to have to learn how to read," Powers said. "Henry David Thoreau, the great philosopher, noted that people got addicted to going to the post office. They would go five, six, seven times a day."

Powers was a victim of digital overload too -- time was, he and his family would all disappear at their various computers after dinner -- until they took a big step.

"We decided we will unplug on the weekends. We called it the 'Internet sabbath.' We've been doing it for three years now. It completely revolutionized our lives," he said.

The Campbells have also taken some steps to "unplug" themselves.

"At dinnertime we have no technology at the table," Brenda said.

"It's that time of the day when we talk together, and that's the time we spend more time together then any other time of the day," Lily said.

In his book, Powers offers some tips to help you find and dismantle any technological overload in your life. Here are a few of his suggestions:

Learn more about "Hamlet's Blackberry" by clicking here.

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