By Effie White
Technology: the magic pill solution to solving all the problems of modern life.
What do you do, though, when technology itself becomes a problem?
The bedtime timer chimed on my phone, and I looked up, startled. Hadn’t we just eaten dinner? I glanced out the window and realized the day had shifted into night. I’d spent the hours after our evening meal as I often did, sitting next to my husband on the couch, our child draped bonelessly over our laps.
Despite our “togetherness,” we weren’t spending time together. We’d each been locked onto our individual devices, lost in our own worlds. After a few moments of painful self-assessment, I realized I couldn’t remember the last time we’d talked beyond debating over who got to pick which show we streamed for dinner.
Retreating to the endless entertainment of the internet started as a weekend-only indulgence. Over time, though, it crept into other aspects of our lives, like waiting in line at the grocery store or long car rides. Now, our devices consumed even our evenings. I wasn’t willing to continue sacrificing precious family time for the sake of tweets and memes, so it was time to make a change.
After discussing the issue, we tried banning devices. That did not go well at all. I’d find my son squirreled under his blankets, hiding the online game he was playing, and then I’d notice the absence of my husband and find him in our room, alone on his laptop. I’d even catch myself losing half an hour scrolling through my newsfeed when I just meant to “pop on for a minute.” Being online had become such a habit; we were all struggling to stick to our plan. We decided to go for the nuclear option: turning off the internet in the evenings.
At first, no one was happy with the change—even me. Giving up my social media habits was the least painful part. Disconnecting the internet meant scrambling behind the desk every evening to turn off the router. Then, when we wanted to turn it back on, the signal didn’t always reconnect the right way, which made it necessary to reboot the whole system.
I had also forgotten how many internet-connected devices we used every day. Without WiFi, we couldn’t use our Amazon Echo to listen to music or ask for the next day’s weather report, and our wireless printer was also out of commission. We also lost the ability to control the smart thermostat remotely, and the security system we’d been considering wouldn’t work without a constant connection.
At the time of this household change, Xfinity’s xFi service didn’t yet exist, but it would have offered the perfect solution. The mobile platform, which connects seamlessly with Xfinity’s internet service, allows users to monitor who in their households use which devices, designate times of day for WiFi to be available and manage parental controls.
With xFi, I would be able to schedule WiFi shutoff times without going through the hassle of physically disconnecting our devices. Managing guest access would be a breeze, and my parental controls would be more secure than software alone. With xFi, I could fine-tine my internet, and manage it all from my phone.
After beginning to monitor our family’s daily WiFi usage, instead of turning to our devices for entertainment, we turned to each other. Evening meals bought lively conversations about the day’s events. I learned that my husband had a new favorite band, and my son liked a girl at school.
There were other, more surprising changes as well. We all went to sleep a little sooner and started getting up earlier. Mornings were no longer a pitched battle of who could be the grumpiest. Limiting the thing we all thought we couldn’t live without made us happier in the long run.
Of course, we haven’t eliminated the internet from our lives entirely. There is still homework to do, recipes to research and social media updates to make. By not centering our lives around the internet, though, we found a way to connect more with each other instead of the online world. We all still lounge on the couch sometimes, but with books instead of tablets. Every once in awhile my son will giggle and read aloud a funny passage, or my husband will share a scintillating snippet of dialogue.
It’s peaceful, but not silent. Time spent together finally feels like time spent as a family.