Last summer, my husband and I canceled our cable television, no easy thing when one’s husband loves college football.
The decision to do so was in part our general disgust with the news coverage of the presidential election, but it was also part of a long-term approach to technology in the home.
With two young children, we were beginning to feel a need to set boundaries with our own use of that most addictive of all modern vices — screens.
We’ve quickly learned that television is the least exotic device in the home.
What will require a great deal more discipline is setting restrictions on use of the computer, tablets and smartphones — anything that can connect us to the wonderful and terrible black hole that is the internet.
I’ve never attempted to quantify the number of times during an average day that I check my smartphone, but I expect I’d be appalled with frequency of my compulsion to do so.
It’s almost instinctive — reading the news while feeding my baby, going over text messages at a stoplight, carrying my device from room to room so I can refresh my inbox.
I know I’m not alone in this.
I’ve watched couples at dinner staring intently at their respective smartphones, not each other.
And I’ve nearly been run over on the sidewalk by a pedestrian so engrossed in their tablet they can’t be bothered to look up, to say nothing of the distracted drivers whose phones garner more attention than the road before them. They are the new “drunk” drivers.
The irony isn’t lost on me.
These devices are supposed to free us; to make us more mobile, more connected to the world.
But we easily become slaves to the technologies they connect us to — social media and the internet.
As writer and blogger Andrew Sullivan describes it, the invention of the smartphone has made “the rabbit hole portable, inviting us to get lost in it anywhere, at any time, whatever else we might be doing.”
And while technology enhances our lives in many ways, it inhibits them an equal amount.
For Sullivan and so many people who rely on technology for a living (and even those who don’t) the ubiquity of the internet led to obsession, which quickly transformed into depression and alienation.
That’s probably because technology is not only changing the way we engage with the world, it is changing the way we think — and not for the better.
Study after study confirms how our brain remakes itself to conform to internet engagement, how the random nature of what we experience online changes the physiological structure of our brains.
We are losing our ability to think deeply, to concentrate and to contemplate.
This is perhaps most acute with young children whose brains are still forming and whose minds are so very malleable — to say nothing of the great potential for exposure to all sorts of inappropriate and dangerous content that threatens our kids.
And the instant gratification the internet provides — it takes only seconds for Google to serve up a list of responses to any question you enter — renders us less patient and less willing to dig deeply for answers.
There are good reasons why so many technology executives raise “low-tech” kids or send their children to low-tech schools instead of those that supply every kindergartener with a tablet.
There’s value in the tactile experience of paging through a book in search of answers, instead of expecting the internet to find one at the click of a button.
In his column aptly titled, “Resist the Internet,” New York Times columnist Ross Douthat offers a series of policy solutions for “digital temperance” including creating public spaces where use of the internet is discouraged, confiscating smartphones in restaurants and museums, raising the age of consent for social media accounts and removing computers from elementary schools.
Those are policies worthy of consideration as we work to reverse our collective immersion in the internet black hole.
And while canceling cable is not a solution to our technology problem, it’s a good place to start limiting technology at home.
Cynthia M. Allen is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Readers may send her email at firstname.lastname@example.org.