The Power of Real Life
We spend 1 hour and 48 minutes every day watching Netflix (Levy), over five hours watching TV, an hour on the internet, and an hour and seven minutes on our smartphones (Hinckley). That is a lot of time invested in in the virtual realities around us—although can we really say they are around us? Sadly, this has a relatively small number of people concerned about the consequences of living in a world with nothing but virtual accomplishments to show for it. Susan Maushart, in her article “When my Kids Unplugged,” outlined her families experience going without electronic media for six months and the valuable lessons they learned in that time, despite the original resistance from her kids who “would have sooner volunteered to go without food, water or hair products” (Maushart). While she never explicitly states the driving point behind her article, there is a very clear unspoken claim that (specifically teenagers) unplugging from technology provides meaningful experiences and valuable human-to-human interactions that cannot be duplicated through electronic media.
Almost the entire article is stories from her family’s six month famine of technology. These anecdotes are very effective in supporting her message of the values of unplugging from technology. Each story highlights different advantages that her family experienced during this time. The first happened as Maushart and her daughter Sussy went through old family photos in front of their fireplace. While anyone can spend time looking through old photos on Facebook or other social media, doing so “sitting side by side, passing pictures from one set of hands to another, [creates] a different energy” (Maushart). It is very easy to relate with this experience, and although that “different energy” is hard to describe or explain, there is certainly a difference between mindlessly scrolling through social media and creating an experience where two people can bond through shared memories of the past. This example evokes feelings of nostalgia and encourages searching one’s own memories to the valuable face-to-face experiences of our past and the heart-warming emotions that accompanied them.
Her son Bill turned back to a former interest in playing the saxophone because he was forced to spend more real time with his musician friends Matt and Tom. Not only that, but he even got to the point where he told his saxophone teacher that he wanted to be a musician when he grew up. This perfectly exemplifies Susan’s point that spending less time with electronic media allows us to expand our horizons and develop talents that we otherwise might not. Maushart perfectly uses this quote from Bill—“the technology ban was nothing but a trigger”—to show that while he wasn’t willing to completely admit that the technology fast was what created his new aspiration for music performance, one can easily detect conscious denial to the fact that the technology fast played the key role in his renewed interest.
Part of what made Maushart’s use of anecdotes helpful was that it reinforced the main point she makes in the article. She argues that we should take a break or reduce the use of electronic media and its virtual world to increase the time we spend in our actual reality—the people we interact with face-to-face everyday. By sharing stories of her own experience, she is showing again how important to her our real day-to-day experiences are by using them to prove her main point. In doing so, she effectively unifies both the style and purpose of her writing. In our day and age, we are moving increasingly away from those face-to-face interactions in favor of more electronic media. It is refreshing to remind ourselves how fulfilling such interactions can be. A simple smile, a sincere compliment received or given, laughing with another person, and hundreds of other interactions can get lost in the enormous virtual and electronic world. While not every interaction is always happy, even the seemingly negative ones give us a depth and help us experience growth beyond what technology has to offer. These interactions make up real life because there is no profile or username to hide behind and we are stripped down to our true selves. If there is nothing else in common between all of us on this planet, we all experience these real life interactions that connect the entire human family. By using these experiences, Maushart taps into the power of that connection and drives home her point to recognize the irreplaceable value of those interactions.
These stories are especially effective for her specific audience: teens who “inhabit” media like her children. As a result of the fast-paced information era they have been raised by, teens are accustomed to getting information quick and clearly. Stories are very good at sharing information quickly and helping to relay a message clearly. These teens are already bored of the countless numbers, studies, and intellectual arguments that they hear all day in the classroom and stories provides a different way to learn information in a way that they more easily relate with. They engage them and grab their attention, opening them to the ideas conveyed through these stories.
The one danger with relying solely on personal experiences is that it is based on the assumption that if something works for one person, it will work the same for everyone else. It would be hard to argue that reducing the use of technology in Maushart’s family did not help them to have meaningful experiences and improve their relationships with their family and friends, but one could argue that for their own family, it would do more damage than help. It could be argued that learning to control and balance the use of electronic media is more important. Not everything with technology is bad. Things like social media can allow us to reach out to, help, and strengthen those who do not live in our immediate circle of influence which certainly helps us become better individuals. The challenge though is to not be stretched out so thin across so many different people around the world and forget that there are “more nourishing ways for friends and family to connect.” But for those who, like Maushart’s children, don’t just use media but “inhabit media,” an opportunity to take a break and appreciate those other valuable ways to connect with people gives a greater perspective on balance and the important matters of life. Maushart could have added an even more all-encompassing and convincing dimension to her claim simply by adding an experience or two from different people with different backgrounds who experienced similar benefits from taking a break from electronic media. Although we all share the commonality of having real life experiences, not everyone’s are the same. By adding support from a different angle of people in different circumstances could have enhanced further the audiences’ ability to connect and relate with her claim.
The word choice that Maushart uses also helps create an effective argument and helps persuade the audience. One of the most creative and ironic methods that she used was adding texting slang and acronyms in her basic text. In the opening paragraph she uses the ironic acronym “RL” for real life. In relating her son Bill’s experience of telling his saxophone teacher that he wanted to become a musician she interjects ‘‘“WTF?” I was screaming internally.” And when she concludes she quotes her daughter Sussy speaking about over-the-phone interactions compared to social media interactions, ““On the phone, it’s totally different. It’s like D&M…You get close. You get tight.”” This irony not only helped connect to her audience, but also revealed clearly that her main audience was teens like her children who spend unnumbered time with technology. Using texting slang makes Maushart more relatable to her audience who are not only familiar with electronic media, but use it to the point that it is a major part of their life. Maushart shows that she is understanding of their situation and even to some extent one of them by using their slang rather than some grumpy, stubborn, old grandma still fighting for dial-up phones because she doesn’t know any different. By her word choice she puts her audience at ease allowing them to open up to her ideas that might otherwise cause them to throw up a wall around the (virtual) comfort they find in their electronic media.
The most important result of these rhetorical strategies is they motivate action. Maushart’s anecdotes evoke curiosity of what could be learned from trying what her family tried. Reading of her family’s experience—like her son’s renewed passion for saxophone—opens the curious mind to possibilities and opportunities that could be realized by fasting from electronic media. Or, at least a greater awareness of more important ways to connect with those we care about than virtually. Her word choice eases her audience and opens them to the idea that trying something like her family could benefit from a similar experience. Even if they don’t exactly copy her family’s six month break, it encourages at the least, considering ways to decrease overuse of electronic media in favor of other more meaningful ways to interact with others.
Hinckley, David. “Average American watches 5 hours of TV per day, report shows.” NY Daily News. NY Daily News, 5 Mar. 2014. Web. 15 Feb. 2016.
Levy, Adam. “How Much Time Does the Average Subscriber Spend Watching Netflix?” The Motley Fool. The Motley Fool, 15 Jan. 2016. Web. 25 Jan. 2016.
Maushart, Susan. “When My Kids Unplugged.” Salon. Salon Media Group Inc., 22 Jan. 2011. Web. 15 Feb. 2016.