Most people couldn’t imagine a day without their fancy smartphones, but a family in Guelph, Canada has decided to shun all post-1986 technology from their lives for a whole year, as part of a social experiment.
It all started last year when Blair McMillan asked his five-year old son if he wanted to come outside and play, only to realize that even on a perfect summer day the child preferred to stay indoors and play video games on an iPad. He started thinking about his own childhood and how today’s youth have become so dependent on modern technology like computers, mobile phones and the internet. The 26-year-old father-of-two talked to teens and young people in their 20’s, most of which confessed they couldn’t even picture their lives without all their different gadgets, and began questioning contemporary public service announcements that encourage parents to get their kids active outdoors for at least 30 minutes a day. He remembered that when he was a child, it was nearly impossible to keep kids siting quietly indoors for half an hour. And that’s when it hit him – what if he could go back in time and give his own children a taste of how life was back then? Since April, the McMillans have given up all modern-day technology, and went back to living in 1986 (the year Blair and his wife were born) with its bad hair, cassette tapes and most importantly, real social interaction.
Photo: Craig Robertson/Toronto Sun
Blair and his family don’t have internet or 24-hour news channels in their house. Instead, they have an old 1980’s TV set encased in a wooden cabinet and a “ghetto blaster” cassette player that plays songs from back in the day rather than modern hits. They’ve thrown out their cell phones, mail real letters instead of sending emails, and knock on people’s doors instead of following them on Facebook. They use film-based cameras and navigate by map instead of using a GPS navigation system. Giving up all these gadgets that made their life so comfortable wasn’t easy, and Blair is first to admit that it took several weeks to shake the feeling that someone was constantly calling or texting him. “The strangest thing without having a cellphone is that I could almost feel my pocket vibrating and I wanted to check my pocket,” he said. But at the same time, the experience has brought the family closer and given them an opportunity to talk to each other more.
But the McMillans’ experiment has also affected their relationship with friends. Most of them have been very supportive of their endeavor, but some just couldn’t give up technology even when visiting the 1986 household. Blair has a “cellphone box” inside the front door and whoever wants to enter has to leave it there for the duration of their visit. Blair and his wife can only be reached on their old rotary phone, which has also inconvenienced some of their friends, but they say it’s nice to go out without anyone getting a hold of you. To make his experience even more realistic, Blair is even dressing like it’s 1986 and sporting a funny mullet-and-mustache combination. “I’ve been touching a lot of people’s lives just through the people that I’ve met, when people see me and the way I look,” he told the Guelph Mercury. “They will stop to take pictures of me, and then I can talk to them. They think what we’re doing is really cool.”
Photo: Rob O’Flanagan/Guelph Mercury
Blair and his family plan to keep living in their 1986 bubble until April 2014. So far they have been having a blast and saving money, given there are no cable or internet bills to pay, but says winter is going to be the biggest challenge. “We’re parenting our kids the same way we were parented for a year just to see what it’s like,” McMillan says. “I have nothing against technology. It improves fuel efficiency and health care. I’m not anti-technology. I wanted to taste, and I wanted my kids to taste what it would be like without it, and to see if we could actually do it.” He wants to turn his social experiment into a documentary about disconnecting from technology to reconnect with friends and family, and is currently looking for a film-maker to take over the project and a writer to chronicle their experiences.