Unplugging at the Library

American Libraries, the journal of the American Library Association, recently published a provocative thought piece by two practicing librarians who questioned whether libraries should institute tech-free zones.

What authors Amanda Wakaruk and Marc Truitt had in mind was a network of “safe harbors . . . free of external distractions of computers, cellphones, and social networking tools, allowing sustained focus and contemplation.” They referred to these tech-free spaces as “Waldon zones,” summoning the image of Thoreau, who withdrew from civilization in order to ponder and reflect upon nature at Waldon Pond.

Even reading rooms are no longer sacrosanct, Wakaruk and Truitt point out. Although these areas are supposed to be quiet zones, anyone who has used a reading room lately is probably all too aware of the intrusive sound of clacking laptop keys or muffled cell phones ringing in the background.

Yet, we at Unplug & Reconnect were heartened to read that there’s a trend in which libraries are starting to establish such tech-free zones. The authors point to Stephens College, which recently began requiring students to deposit their cell phones at the door, as one example.

To be sure, we couldn’t imagine today’s modern libraries without the wondrous technology that makes searching for information so much more efficient (remember the old Dewey Decimal System card cabinets, anyone?). But we think it’s a good idea for library patrons to have a quiet place to read and to reflect, as did Thoreau, once they’ve found the reference material the library’s search system helped them to find so effortlessly.

Time will tell whether or not a movement to unplug at the library gains any traction. The idea certainly has our vote.


Is Facebook Really Making the World a Smaller Place?

The number of acquaintances who stand between any two people on Facebook? It’s 4.74, according to a new study by researchers at Facebook and the University of Milan.

The study updates the popular “Six Degrees of Separation” theory first espoused by psychologist Stanley Milgram in 1967 and later popularized by the parlor game, “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” in which seemingly unconnected celebrities are shown to have a relationship to the Hollywood star.

The Facebook study used a set of algorithms developed by researchers at the University of Milan to calculate the average degree of separation between any two people. The study found that the average number of “hops” from one person to another was 4.74 degrees. In the United States, where more than half of people over the age of 13 are Facebook users, the degree of separation was even smaller – 4.37.

The Facebook study reminds us that the world is increasingly becoming a “Global Village,” a concept the philosopher and scholar Marshall McLuhan popularized in the 1960s when he described how the vast globe has become transformed into a small village by virtue of technology. McLuhan was thinking about television, but he might just as well have been describing the Internet.

The study also begs the question of just who, exactly is a friend. A person could have several hundred Facebook friends and yet have little real contact with any of them. As Jon Kleinberg, a computer science professor at Cornell and a faculty advisor to an author of the Facebook study, told the New York Times: “We are close, in a sense, to people who don’t necessarily like us, sympathize with us or have anything in common with us. It’s the weak ties that make the world small.”


Unplugged Toys are a Healthy Choice in the Digital Age

Top 10 Low-Tech Toy Picks for this Holiday Season

What’s on your child’s wish list this holiday season? Chances are it’s something that plugs in, lights up, rings, zings and pings. And chances are they will be able to “connect” with unknown “friends” from around the globe, while oblivious to family and friends sitting around the dining table.

With this in mind, Unplug & Reconnect is recommending its pick of the hottest “unplugged toys” of 2011. These recommended toys, culled from myriad top toy lists of the current season, all have one thing in common – the only plug-in they require is a child’s imagination.

The Top Ten Unplugged Toys for 2011

  1.  What’s not to like about LEGO building blocks, featuring colorful interlocking plastic bricks and an accompanying array of gears, figurines, and various other parts – with themes for every age group? Hot this year is LEGO Harry Potter Hogwarts (Age 8+), which lets young wizards build and recreate the battle between Harry Potter and his friends vs. the Death Eaters and Dementors ($116.97). For the younger set, try LEGO Duplo Learning (Age 3+), with big, colorful, numbered bricks for endless hours of learning through play ($24.99). Also promising hours of fun is the LEGO Toy Story Western Train Chase (Age 7+) – roll down the tracks with Buzz Lightyear, Woody, Jessie, Bullseye, and Rex while trying to escape from the “Evil Doctor Porkchops ($70.99). Families will enjoy the LEGO Creationary Game (Age 7+), which challenges players to guess what other players have built, charades style ($32.30).
  2. Playmobil is an enduring line of collectible action sets featuring small plastic people and animals – from pirates and police officers, dragons, Vikings and fairy tale princesses – amidst castles, ghost ships, puppet theaters, western forts, and a variety of other settings. Hot for 2011 is the Playmobil My Take Along Puppet Theater (Ages 4+), which lets children stage their own puppet show for the Playmobil characters to act out ($49.99), and the Playmobil Figure Set Furnished School Set (Ages 3+), providing a great setting for hours of play school ($99.99).
  3. Lalaloopsy Silly Hair Doll by MGA (Ages 4+). This season’s “it” doll, the Lalaloopsy were once rag dolls who magically came to life, taking on the personalities of the fabrics that were used to make them. The Lalaloopsy have silly hair that bends every which way, and come with their own hair styling brush, clips and beads. Clothing and accessories sold separately ( $29.99).
  4. Angry Birds: Knock on Wood Game by Mattel. (Ages 5+) A hands-on, unplugged version of the touchscreen phone app, for two to four players. This game follows the same goals as the online version: launch the Angry Birds toward the egg-stealing pigs’ wooden castles to destroy them to advance to the next level ($26.99).
  5.  Real Construction Deluxe Took Workshop by Jakks Pacific (Age 6+). A great way to strengthen problem-solving skills and nurture creativity without a mess! Featuring a real saw, hammer, screwdriver and more, the workshop lets children come up with their own projects and figure out different ways to build them ($24).
  6. Squinkies Cupcake Surprise Bakeshop by Blip (Ages 4+). The hot new toy for 2011, Squinkies feature miniature worlds of imagination. Put a “coin” in a slot, turn a dial, and the fun world of Squinkies begins in the palm of your hand! Once you open the cupcake you will find your own bake shop and hours of fun playing with the Squinkies figures ($29.99)!
  7.  Rory’s Story Cubes by Gamewright. (Ages 8+). Everyone who plays is transformed into a master storyteller with this pocket-sized idea factory. Just roll the dice and use the pictures that come up to create a tale. A great party game and ice breaker ($6.71)!
  8. Eco-Kids-Eco-Crayons available at LuckyVitamin.com (Ages 2+). No childhood is complete without crayons, so why not get them nontoxic and eco-safe crayons? Features six crayons handmade with natural and organic fruit, plant and vegetable extracts, soy, bee and palm wax ($9.99).
  9. Hot Wheels Wall Tracks Starter Set  by Mattel (Ages 4+). Hot Wheels racetracks are always fun. Now take it to a whole new level. Using the wall mount track, your child can expand the world of Hot Wheels and create stunts and tricks up and down the wall ($27.99)!
  10. Magnet Levitation Kit by Dowling Magnets (Ages 10+). Challenge your child to learn about equilibrium and magnetic fields while constructing an incredible gravity-defying train. Designed for older kids who love science, this kit comes with tons of educational components and a comprehensive “how to” guidebook with step-by-step instructions. A must-have for science fairs ($25.95).



A Step-by-Step Guide to Taking a TechBreak™ from Facebook

Never Fear – You’re Still in Control!

Here’s a challenge for you if you’re one of the estimated 750 million users worldwide who can’t get enough of the popular social media site, Facebook.

Take a mini-vacation.

That’s right. Give up Facebook for a day, a week, a weekend, a month. Do it today!

Does the very thought of disconnecting from Facebook fill you with dread? Don’t let it. Thousands of others have tried it and liked it. In fact, the alternative – being a slave to technology instead of its master – should send chills up your spine.

With Unplug and Reconnect’s new TechBreak™ Solutions, a service that offers simple strategies for those who want to step back from technology, taking a break from Facebook couldn’t be simpler. Here’s how to do it:

TechBreak From Facebook in Five Easy Steps

1. Click “Account” on the top left of your page
2. Go to “Account Settings”
3. Select the “Security” tab
4. On the bottom of the page you’ll find the button to deactivate your account –click it
5. Scroll to the bottom of the next page and click “Confirm”

Don’t worry – reactivating is also easy. Facebook won’t let you deactivate your account permanently, so when you decide your TechBreak is over, you can reactivate your account by simply signing in.

If you like it, tell your friends and try it again. Spread the word on Facebook. Share this simple TechBreak solution with your friends.

Do you want to receive more hints and suggestions from Unplug and Reconnect’s TechBreak Solutions? Simply give us your email address and we’ll be sure to keep you posted whenever we post another in our series of TechBreak Solutions!

Comments or questions are welcome.

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Breaking Up Too Easy to Do

It was with a tinge of sadness that the Unplug & Reconnect team read about a recent survey in which more than a third of adults said they would use technology –– such as social media, email, or text messages – to end a romantic relationship.

All we can say is “ouch.”

The survey was conducted by Lab42, a market research company that focuses on social media. Lab42 surveyed 550 people over the age of 18 and found that of those surveyed, 40 percent said they would use technology to break up a romantic relationship if they ever found it necessary.

It probably should come as no surprise that many people today find ending a relationship via technology a natural thing to do. After all, many of today’s relationships begin via technology – such as text messages or emails to plan a date or Facebook “statuses” proclaiming the relationship to be real.

Still, many would argue that a breakup via technology is cowardly, heartless and less than classy. And while we’re not here to pass similar judgment, we would like to say that there’s a time and a place when real human contact trumps technology. Delivering bad news, especially news that is likely to hurt another person, is usually one of those times.