Monday, 10 January 2011

The Winter Of Our Disconnect

Last week, Radio 4 as “Book Of The Week” broadcast readings from Susan Maushart’s latest book.

“The Winter Of Our Disconnect” is about the six months in her family life when she and her three teenage children banned al technology screens from their home [TV, PC, iPod, mobile phones etc]

Did anyone else out there hear it?

haydn gwynne

I listened to Haydn Gwynne reading the book in five episodes. I love HG’s voice- she is so wonderfully British, and a very clever lady, But I was a little disappointed when I discovered SM is an American living in Oz and so the voice was all wrong. I know that’s a trivial thing – but I wondered why the BBC hadn’t gone for a little more accuracy in the accent of the reader.

But back to the book – some conclusions

  • I am awfully glad my girls were at secondary school before the Internet and mobile phones became so accessible. They had already learned to read, and to research things from books, and make their own amusements – so we never had to fight this battle.
  • Similarly, for financial reasons, our family came rather late to colour TVs and videos – and the ‘off’ switch was always well used. So I don’t think our family have the same sort of dependency.
  • We have always had family meal times, gone out and gone on holiday as a family, played board games together etc

So maybe I am not in a reasonable position to make any judgments. I think the experiment was a good one – and did show that her family had become very dependent on these technologies – but how far have they gone back to their ‘old ways’ in the intervening six months? And how did they get that dependent in the first place? 

SM is quite honest in admitting that she ‘bribed’ her kids into doing it, offering them a share of the book’s profits. Yes, she did set it all up with a few to getting a book deal out of it – she’s had a number of books published already and is already a well known journalist and broadcaster in Oz.

family meal

She said one good outcome was that ‘they began to have meals together as a family’ – but that actually is more to do with general attitudes to family life than using a PC, surely? “Breaking bread together” – whether with children, parents, friends, colleagues – is part of the glue which strengthens society.

No, there isn’t a current Mr Maushart. There have been two in the past, both dispatched via the divorce courts – SM is an ardent feminist and has written extensively on this and I personally am not really in agreement with her thoughts on husbands and fatherhood [here]

So again, I am coming at this whole thing as a woman who is happily married to the man who is a brilliant father to our girls – and we have been able to do the parenting thing together – which is much easier than doing it alone. It is incredibly hard work being a parent, and I feel for my friends who are, for whatever reason, single Mums/Dads. I am not in the same situation as Ms Maushart and it is not right for me smugly to say “well, I wouldn’t have raised children like that in the first place”


  • She says she kept a journal for the six months – presumably hand written [or with a typewriter?] but did she use a PC to produce the final manuscript?
  • Exactly what has she proved – that you can live without ‘screens’ [well, we knew that] – that cooking meals and sharing them together are good things to do [we knew that too] that it is beneficial to families to actually sit down and talk together [yeah, and…] ??
  • Am I just very cynical in thinking she had a clever money-making idea for a book and managed to get it to work?
  • Finally [I suspect this is the most pertinent question] why can’t I think of some brilliant idea like this, write the book and pay off the mortgage? [You are way too busy doing other more important stuff, said Bob]

book deal

I admit that I love technology and gadgetry of all sorts – but any gadget/tool has to be my slave not my master. And it has to be able to be used for the benefit of others and justify itself – and it doesn’t need to be replaced with the next model simply because a newer/bigger/better one has come onto the market.

roberts radio new LG phone  janome-300e-01









Questions for further consideration

  • Someone else stated recently on a blog that they have 5485 songs on their iPod. When do they listen to them all? [I don’t have an iPod or an MP3 player. But then Bob says I have cloth ears and don’t appreciate music properly anyway!]
  • Is there a bit of modern gadgetry to which I am ‘addicted’, and if so, could I give it up for six months? and if I could manage without it for six months, then would I need to go back to it afterwards? Is it one of the four items pictured above?
  • Should I be worrying more about my carbon footprint?



I have a lot of respect for the Amish, and the Shakers – tis a gift to be simple and all that – but right now I am stuck in front of a computer screen in the 21st century and I think I am going to go on using these all inventions while they remain a benefit to myself and others.


  1. Well said, Angela! Amen!

  2. Gosh, it makes you wonder doesn't it? I very much agree with you and we were fortunate enough to be able to bring our daughter up in those simply awful days when you had to make some of your own entertainment! I wonder how many children now know how to play Monopoly or Charades without the cards? TV yes, but we had nothing else which is considered essential in these days. Mind you, I would find myself having serious withdrawal symptoms if away from the internet for more than a day or two!

  3. Oh dear. I have nearly 12,000 songs on my iPod!

  4. I heard the first two instalments and the author being interviewed on Women's Hour but felt that the whole thing was far to contrived. I too am very cynical!
    As a family we always ate together at the table (apparently dining tables, knives and dining rooms are going out of fashion!) rather than on the knee in front of the TV!
    I do wonder if a lot of the problem is that many people have a lot of spare cash? When money is tight you have to really think about whether you really need something.

  5. My grown up family still love silly games. They still take on each other at Monopoly too!

  6. Christmas book- Christmas book!

  7. I refuse to play my husband at Monopoly, he is a vicious Tycoon far too quickly in the game. LOL.


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