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Calling a technology timeout

Posted by Ralph Ranalli March 10, 2008 07:56 AM

NEEDHAM

With cellphones strapped to their hips and the Internet in their pocket, they hustle down suburban streets, always racing off to somewhere. One child's swim lessons, another's choir practice. There's Hebrew school to attend, and science projects to finish, and, finally, from many suburban families, there is screaming.

People want to be unplugged, be unscheduled.

And so, in recent years, town officials have started giving people that opportunity, writes Keith O'Brien, a roving reporter for the Globe's regional editions. Month-long calendars have been created in Needham, Newton, Belmont, and Bedford suggesting daily activities that don't include watching television or instant-messaging. Nights have been set aside in these towns - as well as in Northborough and Southborough - where meetings and school homework are forbidden, freeing families up to spend a quiet evening together. And in Needham - where the local "unplugged" or "unscheduled" movement began - a few brave souls decided to do something radical last Friday.

No e-mail. All day.

"When you combine the number of hours devoted to television and being online, it could be up to 10 hours a day or more," said Jon Mattleman, director of the Needham Youth Commission, who planned "Needham Unplugged." "So I really want people to think about it. If you're doing anything for 10 hours a day, what does that mean for your life?"

Read more about the family time vs. technology time debate in the online edition of today's Globe.

Researchers studying the impact of technology on our lives say it's a valid question, given the ways that digital gadgetry divide us as well as connect us. But in a world gone wired, calls for technological temperance often fall on unwilling ears - even when people say they want to go unplugged. And carving out family time for board games on the living room floor?

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