How Zombies Are Helping Me Disconnect And Be A Better Father

There seems to be a zombie infestation in my home and, after some research, I fear I may be “Patient Zero". Let's break down what happened and what the road to recovery looks like.

Patient Zero

I have always enjoyed technology and in having the latest gadgets. I will freely admit that I have attended multiple consumer electronics conferences and midnight launch parties for a new game or device. I have developed a very tight bond with my iPhone and feel completely lost and disorganized without it. Needless to say, when I starting having children of my own, I was excited to help introduce them into this wonderfully connected world of ours.

I happily set up a kid’s-only iPad for them filled with educational apps, kid friendly games, and enough parental controls to give me peace of mind. I quickly jumped on board when Xbox announced the Family Gold option. I updated my existing Live account so that my eight and six year olds would be able to enjoy games, Netflix, and Kinect features while also being able to connect with friends and family across multiple states. I have always loved playing video games and I couldn’t wait to bring this joy into the lives of my children. My wife cautiously warned that guidelines and restrictions would need to be put in place so they would not go into technology overload. I explained to her that when I was a kid playing on my Nintendo, I didn’t have any restrictions and I was very capable of being able to shut it off when told to do so. “Don’t worry,” I assured, “they will ultimately get bored with video games and want to play outside anyways.” The virus began to spread.

The Infestation

I have three amazing boys and one little girl (who, fortunately, is still a baby and is therefore immune to the virus). I only really started to recognize a problem when every single morning I would wake up to find my boys gathered on the couch playing on the iPad. Every…single…morning. “Hey guys! It’s a beautiful day today. Let’s go out back and toss the football or something.” No response. “Have you had breakfast yet? Anybody hungry”? A few mumbles followed by some grunts.

The Xbox became a source of great entertainment for the kids. Movies and cartoons were just a button click away. Beautifully designed games were just waiting to be conquered and explored. Unfortunately this entertainment also became a source of great stress for my wife and I. Have you ever tried to yank a toddler boy away from a two hour Minecraft session? It involves a lot of screaming, crying, and ultimately ends with us putting the controllers into “time out.”

The Battle

“We need to go on a technology diet,” my wife suggested.

“Yes, that’s probably a good idea,” I agreed as I wrote this note down in my iPhone.

We were certainly finding ourselves in the middle of a battle. On one hand, I wanted to make sure that our kids were being exposed to technology and how to use it responsibly. “They are using tablets and laptops in school already,” I would think. “They need to learn how to manage their use and time through exposure and experience.” Yet on the other hand, every time they got their hands on some device, they quickly became selfish, greedy, and forgetful. Fights were constantly breaking out over who’s turn it was to play, who got to be first player, or why they only got to play for thirty minutes instead of an hour.

Something was going terribly wrong with my initial plan. How could technology, something I loved and respected, possibly turn my kids into such monsters? I asked Siri to jot down some thoughts.

The Cure

I think everybody has been noticing the very drastic increase in zombie related entertainment. Books, movies, video games, TV shows, zombies are everywhere. But why the seemingly sudden interest? What is it about zombies that we are attracted to? Personally, I think it is because zombies represent exactly what was happening in my own home for the last few years.

Zombies introduce a very rapid, forceful, and widespread change in our day to day living. Everything seems fine and dandy until suddenly you’re surrounded by thousands of beings trying to suck you into a lifeless existence. Could zombies represent the modern technological movement? Possibly. Is everybody who uses some modern device doomed to be a “zombie”? Absolutely not.

I don’t think we’re all into zombies right now because we like the zombies. I think it’s because we like to kill them. We like the war against zombies and what it takes to stop them. Zombies force us to take a step back and rethink our approach to survival. Need to get a message out? Too bad, the zombies took out all of the cell phone towers. Oh, you’re starving? Sorry, all of the grocery stores are cleaned out from the other survivors. What do we do? We are forced into thinking about our most basic needs; shelter, food, water, transportation, and companionship. We learn to survive without a phone to communicate, a GPS to tell us where to go, or Amazon Prime subscriptions to deliver our paper towels. I think there is something deep inside our human nature that is fascinated by, and yearns for, a simpler life uncluttered by all of the modern “noises” we are bombarded with every minute. Personally, I don’t know if it’s just from getting a bit older, and hopefully wiser, but I’ve noticed that things like raising chickens, going sailing, shaving with a safety razor, and knowing how to properly grow a garden suddenly seem a lot cooler.

My wife and I went to see World War Z and these thoughts were already digging into my head. Then Brad Pitt utters the line, “Movement is life.” That’s it! Technology is evolving extremely fast. As soon as you buy a new device, the next three versions are already being developed. It is truly impossible to keep up with the vast amounts of new apps, devices, and trends. I thought I was living well by moving quickly to keep up with these changes when in fact I myself was in technology overload and it was infecting my children. I worried as they stared blankly at a TV or iPad screen while I was always busy texting away, reading a Twitter feed, downloading a new app, or playing video games in my spare time as well. I needed to move. I needed my children to see me move. Movement does not mean moving quickly to get the next great invention. Movement means get up and move!

I am trying harder to see modern conveniences for exactly what they are; conveniences. Is it necessary to disconnect completely and go live in a cabin somewhere off the grid? Definitely not. I am just realizing that my kids and I are happier, healthier, and more connected to each other when we are able to power down. This has been tested and proved in my own living room. What happens when I sit down next to my boys and we all play a round of Madden? Zombies! What happens when I walk them up to the park and we throw a real football to each other? Pure paternal magic. Sorry Kinect. Running together while we all stare blankly at virtual versions of ourselves isn’t really counting as family time in my book anymore. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that when the kid’s iPad gets put away for a two week break they are more courteous, patient, sharing, and respectful. There are fewer fights breaking out, less yelling, and more working together. We’ve settled on allowing only playing video games on the weekend (myself included) and are already reaping the rewards of a happier family.

Let’s not allow technology to take over our lives. Let’s try to absorb the many experiences that are around us rather than trying to capture them.

Yes, I am indeed Patient Zero in my own home, but I feel like I’ve found a cure. Taking a technology break every so often is very good for the soul. Not relying one hundred percent on my iPhone for every daily task has helped me clear my head. My Instagram feed might not include a picture of me and my family on a sailboat anymore, but that’s only because I left my phone at home. So, the cure is being distributed effectively through our home. Although, in the time it took me to write this post, my seventeen month old girl has managed to learn how to turn on the Roku. Gotta get moving.