Our family loves technology. We’re all wired up in every possible way, and none of us would change that, even if we could.
And yet, as someone who both consumes and creates content for modern gadgetry, I’ve wondered: How might our family dynamics be different if we were forced, on a regular basis, into something as terrifying as a traditional conversation? As it happens, in at least one small part of our clan’s collection of busy lives, we’ve been able to find out.
In the fall, we bought a farm. More accurately, I bought a farm. My wife has gone on record stating that this was my movie and that she did not have a speaking part, and I’m afraid she’s not wrong. I pushed this one through like an eleventh-hour fiscal cliff budget, so unbridled was my enthusiasm for owning a weekend place in the country. Mind you, I didn’t have a clue what we would do with 32 acres, 11 outbuildings and a 1920s farmhouse, but to me, determining little details like that would be part of the fun.
It turns out the most important thing isn’t what we’ve done with the farm, but what we haven’t done. In a last-minute attempt to mend fences with the missus, I pretended it had been my intention all along to ban television from the premises. I knew this would win me back some points. She’s the queen of screen time rationing, known to grab the remote and interrupt SpongeBob mid-giggle.
The kids reacted to the news as if we’d just snipped off all their fingers.
“What will we dooooooooo?”
“Not even moooooovies?”
Sorry, this was the way it was going to be. I went to Target, bought every board game they had, merrily loaded them onto the shelves in the farmhouse dining room and went to work cooking a good old-fashioned Saturday night supper.
I think I speak for all fathers when I say that nothing we ever do, under any circumstances, works out well. We plan educational vacations that render our loved ones miserable, we build tree houses that crash dangerously to the ground, and, sometimes, we buy rural getaways that make our children wish to God they had school on weekends.
That’s why I’m proud and more than a little shocked to report that this time, my plan worked. I was still peeling the potatoes that Saturday evening when I heard the long-forgotten sound of dice being rolled onto a table in the next room. Tap, tap, tap went the game pieces as they marched their way across Candyland. Talk, talk, talk went the family as they made awkward eye contact and noted how much the youngest among them had grown.
It’s been 10 weekends of it now, and the crowd around the table for Saturday roast has grown to a consistent dozen. We’ve had Twister matches run from just after dinner ’til midnight. Some visitors now arrive with their own games, diabolical little numbers that produce ridiculous faces, awkward language and, when we’re lucky, humiliating personal revelations. It’s an all-ages show, too. There’s no more grounding moment than when 20 clues leave you unable to guess the word stuck to your forehead and a 7-year-old pees her pants laughing.
So what can be learned from an experience like this one that seem to prove people still crave good old-fashioned face-to-face human contact? Well, as someone in the business of making stuff for TV and all those other gadgets that suck our attention away from one another, I find myself more firmly resolved than ever to ensure what we’re putting out there really is worth someone’s time. More than anything, though, as I observe my family and friends actually listening to each other, it makes me hope we can create more work that brings people together. And not just electronically, but physically. Live. In the same place.
Of course, it remains to be seen whether our family’s newfound, farm-bred sense of community will hold. We did make a huge concession right away in allowing wi-fi so that our grown-up boys could check their fantasy football without driving to the bar in town (a wise move, trust me). But so far, that seems to be the extent of our collective need for electronic connectedness.
All except for one incident, which, despite appearances, may be yet another indication we’re changing. I walked into the living room a couple weeks ago to find six kids, each holding his or her iPhone and stabbing away at it, mouth agape.
“Hey,” I scolded. “What…”
“It’s okay, Dad,” the littlest one said, “We’re playing against each other.”