Suzanne Tobias

Suzanne Perez Tobias: We’re all connected, just not to one another

Sometimes our family room looks more like an Internet cafe.

We sit there together, the four of us, but we’re all looking down, our heads bowed as if observing a collective moment of silence. And it is silent, in fact, except for the click-click-clicking of our electronic devices.

Randy’s laptop.

My iPad.

Hannah’s iPod or cellphone.

Jack’s handheld video game.

Sometimes, amid all this, the television broadcasts a basketball game or the evening news.

We’re connected.

Just not to one another.

This doesn’t happen often, thank goodness, but enough to unsettle and embarrass my husband and me. We’ll walk into the room – or look up from our own blinking screens on a lazy Saturday morning – and sarcastically announce, “It’s so nice to spend quality time with you guys.”

According to recent data, the average U.S. home has 24 different consumer media and communications devices. (Ours has at least 16. I counted.)

A Pew Research Center survey found that 67 percent of cellphone owners find themselves checking their device even when it’s not ringing or vibrating. (Yeah, I do that, too.)

And while Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr can make it seem as if we’re more connected and social than ever before, a growing number of American parents worry about technology’s intrusion into family time. (Ditto again.)

So when I learned recently about Tech Timeout – a new effort to urge scheduled breaks from technology – I thought, “Hold the phone!”

Or rather, put the phone down.

The Tech Timeout Challenge, launched by Foresters, a North American life insurance provider, encourages families to take a daily break from electronic devices and reconnect with one another. You can find out more information and even download a pledge at – ironically – or at the Tech Timeout page on Facebook.

Such efforts are nothing new, of course. Each spring, the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood promotes Screen-Free Week (formerly TV Turnoff Week) to encourage kids, families, schools and community to turn off screens and “turn on life.”

There’s the Nickelodeon network’s Worldwide Day of Play every fall, the Great American Backyard Campout each summer and the National Wildlife Federation’s ongoing “Be Out There” campaign, all focused on getting families to ditch screens – at least for a little while – and embrace nature, community, conversations and relationships.

Gimmicks, I realize, but the goal is commendable. And if you’re anything like me, you appreciate an occasional reminder:

Turn off the gadgets.

Ignore the e-mails.

Forget about Facebook.

And put the family back in your family room.