After a busy day, there’s nothing quite like coming home. It’s the headquarters of our private sphere, a sanctuary made sacred by our most intimate relationships. It’s a safe place that shields us as we let our guard down and practice being ourselves.
Up until the early decades of the 20th century, most companies and institutions abided by the unwritten rule that the family home was off-limits. As author Tim Wu points out in "The Attention Merchants," before 1930 “there remained a divide between the highly commercialized public sphere and the traditional private one. A newspaper or leaflet might be brought inside, but otherwise, the family home was shielded from the commercial bombardment to which one was subjected in public.” But with the advent of the telephone, radio, and television, that began to change.
Today, high-speed data connections deliver endless entertainment options. Big Tech gets pride of place through smart appliances, digital assistants, and other connected devices. And when we’re not watching TV, our phones, tablets, and computers are close at hand. The line between public and private has blurred, and home is fast becoming an extension of the marketplace. This advance into our place of refuge is affecting our relationships and our well-being. It’s one reason loneliness has reached epidemic levels. A mental health crisis among young adults is raging. Suicide rates have risen by 30 percent over the last two decades. For all our modern comforts, we are not a very happy bunch.
1. Create an Unplug BoxIt’s crucial to practice separating ourselves from our devices. Just having your phone in your pocket is not enough. Alerts and notifications can still tempt you, and research shows that having your phone near your body can reduce cognitive function, even if you’re not using it. One way to practice this separation at home is with an unplug box. It’s a small wooden box large enough to house your family’s smartphones and tablets. Buy one ready-made or make your own. Then set some limits. Use your unplug box at mealtimes and for the last few hours before bedtime. Try making one whole day a week screen-free. Putting your family’s screens aside will bring more clarity and commitment to your family time. You’ll learn to appreciate the feeling of separation between you and your devices. The simple act of putting your phone out of reach will empower you and give you the confidence you’ll need to stay boss over your gadgets.
2. Ditch the Digital AssistantsIt’s easy to want a digital assistant. Instant access to information, music, and home commands sounds pretty handy. But the long-term disadvantages of gadgets like the Amazon Echo or the Google Home far outweigh the short-term benefits. Take your family’s privacy. Digital assistants can collect a range of data from your home, including voice recordings, usage habits, floorplans, user info, and more. Companies use this daily data to compile a comprehensive record of your behavior at home so they can sell you more products. No corporate entity deserves such an intimate window into your family’s personal life. And anything that connects to a network can also be hacked, which leads to its own kind of havoc. Second, your family’s ability to learn is at stake. Robert A. Bjork, the director of the Learning and Forgetting Lab at UCLA, says learning needs to have difficulty to be effective. “The more students have to exert their mental muscles to learn a concept or recall an idea, the stronger their memory and learning will become.” Learning about something is not an instant download. It’s a journey that takes time and effort. And what about motivation? The more a digital assistant is used, the more reliant on quick information access we become. Over time, this can lead to entitlement and intellectual laziness. Defend the privacy and well-being of your family by saying no to digital assistants.
3. Play Games TogetherMaking time at home for happy family moments is crucial. Turn the screens off and gather in the living room or at the family dining table and play games together. Old favorites or new discoveries, it doesn’t matter what game it is as long as it’s done together. Little ones enjoy the thrills of games like Hi Ho! Cherry-o, Hungry Hippos, or Sorry! As they get older, they might like Scattergories, Chutes & Ladders, Yahtzee, and Charades. Then there are classics like Risk, Monopoly, Life, Battleship, Scrabble, and Guess Who?, to say nothing of domino and card games. Try the Ticket to Ride game series, the chaotic fun of Bounce-Off, or search-and-find games like Eye Found It. Game nights can add some much-needed humor to daily life and make for some lasting memories. And while everyone is having fun, they’re also practicing communication, teamwork, and good sportsmanship. Let’s face it—these are challenging times we’re living through. Family games give us a few moments to put problems and worries aside and do something fun, just for fun.
4. Read TogetherLike flossing your teeth, reading aloud as a family is a simple activity that comes with a lot of benefits. A school-time reader, says Jim Trelease, author of the bestselling guide "The Read-Aloud Handbook," is one who reads well enough to graduate but stops reading once they leave school. A lifelong reader, on the other hand, continues to read and learn long after graduation. The difference is exposure. The more we read aloud to our kids, the more likely they will do it themselves when they grow up. They’ll also have a larger vocabulary, be more perceptive, and be more motivated to succeed in school. Read to your children before they’re even born and continue long after they can read for themselves. Read them stories written hundreds of years ago as well as newer offerings. Read them books of all kinds, from biographies of notable people to the amazing world of sharks, and everything in between. Vary up your family reading time by giving the kids a chance to read to you, reading silently with time afterward to share, or by assigning characters and following along together. Enjoy the delightfully analog experience of reading aloud as a family and watch your kids develop skills that will serve them well as adults.
5. Go Retro to Stay RootedOld technology can be useful to have around in your home. A working replica of a 1960s telephone. A View-Master stereoscope on the mantle with a gallery of images from outer space. A Bluetooth-enabled turntable with old and new vinyl records. A facsimile copy of Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language on the shelf. Objects like these are a good way to kindle curiosity and serve as a healthy reminder to your family that the latest isn’t always the greatest. While innovation certainly has its place, sometimes we just need to get back to the basics. Gather your own selection of retro and antique tech and give your family the chance to appreciate the marvels of yesteryear. More possibilities include a reel lawn mower, an apple press, an antique radio, a typewriter, an antique school desk, a pair of World War II binoculars, or perhaps a family heirloom that has been gathering dust in the attic. If the item can still be used, all the better! A thoughtful mix of old and new reflects not only the generations in your own family but also the history and culture of the nation at large, inspiring your family to think of the future while staying grounded by the lessons and gifts of the past.
If home is truly where the heart is, then let’s take steps to protect our family’s privacy and security. These five ideas will help to ensure that your living space remains a much-needed sanctuary for yourself and the ones you love.