It started civilly enough. I was sitting with my family at Burger King when I decided to break the news. "I'm writing an article," I announced. "It's about a family who goes 'unplugged' for a week."
"Unplugged?" my husband, Larry, asked.
"You know, unplugged from high-tech entertainment. That means no TV, computer games, or Net-surfing. They'll have to rely on their imaginations, conversation, and books for relaxation instead."
My then-12-year-old daughter Kaitlyn looked thoughtful. "That would be interesting, but you'll never find a family who agrees to it. They'd have to be idiots. They'd have to be "
"Us," I said. "The family in the article is going to be us."
"Gee, I'd love to help," Kaitlyn said breezily, "but I'm spending that week at Lynzee's house."
"Kaitlyn, don't be silly," Larry admonished. "We'll learn all sorts of wonderful things about each other." He patted my hand. "It's a fabulous idea, Karen. In fact, let's do it right away. Not next week, but the week after next. I'm behind you, honey."
Kaitlyn flashed her dad a payback smile. "We'll be sure to tell you how it goes."
I blinked. "What are you talking about?"
"Mom, don't you get it? That's the week Dad's in Taiwan on business."
Larry looked sheepish. "Oh, yeah. Must have slipped my mind."
We picked a week when everyone would be home. To prepare for the coming media fast, we glutted ourselves on electronic stimuli, playing computer games for hours and watching reruns of all our favorite TV shows. And when we weren't sitting comatose in front of glowing screens, we were at Wal-Mart buying board games and puzzles, squirreling them away like nuts in anticipation of a winter famine.
As I drifted to sleep the night before The Big Experiment, I pondered the coming week. Perhaps the assignment wasn't fair. After all, every family member had their favorite media addiction: Kaitlyn loved the TV show Seventh Heaven. Four-year-old Kacie drew daily nourishment from Disney videos. And in the previous month, Larry had developed an insatiable need to play a computer game called WarCraft II, often launching the game after dinner and crawling into bed at 4 a.m. having finally defeated all the Zongs.
I, on the other hand, didn't watch much TV or play video games. I emailed friends, but since many of them were business associates (and we agreed we could still use the computer for work and school), I figured I had a loophole. Our media fast might torment my family, but my life would remain largely unchanged.
Boy, was I in for the surprise of my life.