Building a Bridge to 1986

As Michael Sacasas notes in his recent post, “What Motivates the Technology Critic?” there are two common dispositions towards technology: the Arcadian disposition that mourns for what is lost and the Utopian disposition that celebrates what is gained. When I come across someone with a strong Arcadian disposition towards technology, my favorite experiment is to find the point in history where they draw the line on technological development. You can usually draw out a lot from a person by figuring out whether they think the downfall of civilization has been caused by smart phones, cell phones, land-line telephones, or even the telegraph.

Neil Postman, in his Building a Bridge to the 18th Century, recommends that we should look to the great thinkers and philosophers of the 18th century to help us develop a stronger social narrative moving into the 21st century.

More peculiarly, the McMillan family has chosen the year 1986, the Toronto Sun reports. For their one year experiment, the Canadian family of four has chosen to remove technology developed after 1986 (the year Blair and Morgan were born) from their home, including computers, smart phones, fancy coffee machines, and apparently for Blair and his sons, hair styles besides the mullet.

The family has requested that friends and family members check any modern technology at the door to their house. Blair and Morgan’s goal is to raise their kids in a similar environment to the one they in which they were raised.

While it was hard to muster the courage to delete Facebook accounts and to get out of the habit of constantly needing to check smart phones for text messages and other updates, the family reports that their kids have adapted to the necessity of being more creative and engaged with the outside world with no tablets or other gadgets to fall back on. On the flip side, however, Blair says that he has had trouble convincing others to do business with him in person or via fax as opposed to email.

After their year experiment is up, the family intends to reevaluate and maybe move ahead a year or a decade to see how things change.

Experiments like these seem to be increasingly common, like Paul Miller’s year without the internet. It is fascinating to read or hear about people who live the lives that some Arcadians dream of, but it also makes Sacasas’ article all the more timely by helping us to delineate what good, insightful technology criticism is and what it is not.

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About the Contributor

Benjamin Robertson

Benjamin Robertson
Benjamin Robertson is a founding editor at Second Nature. He has worked in advertising for the Chicago Tribune and Gannett, and now is a web developer at Mediacurrent. He studied Communications and Media Studies under Dr. Read Schuchardt at Wheaton College in Illinois. He has presented papers on Marshall McLuhan, media ecology, and Christianity at the Media Ecology Association, National Communication Association, and the McLuhan's Philosophy of Media Centennial Conference in Brussels. He lives with his wife, Ruth, in Greenville, SC. His personal website is benrobertson.io

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