By BRUCE FEILER
I [TO SET OUT] to spend my summer vacation online. A few things conspired to give me the idea. The first was the insistent
finger wagging one now encounters that the only way to spend quality time with one’s children is to disengage from technology.
The same day, my brother sent along a link for a new app (leafsnap) that allows users to identify trees by submitting photos of
leaves. What a smart way to juice that nature walk, I thought. The next day I saw a Twitter message from Pierre Omidyar (@pierre), the
eBay founder, in which he attached a photo and asked, “What is the name of this purple and white flower bush?” Seconds later he had
his answer: lilac.
Then my sister wrote to ask how she could identify the bird building a nest on her deck. “Take a picture and put it on Facebook,”
I said. “You’ll have an answer within the hour.” She bet me it wouldn’t work, but within 19 minutes two friends had confirmed it was a
I concocted a scheme. During weekends this summer, I would pursue the opposite of an unplugged vacation: I would check
screens whenever I could. Not in the service of work, but in the service of play. I would crowd-source new ideas for car games and
YouTube my picnic recipes. I would test the prevailing wisdom that the Internet spoils all the fun. With back-to-school fast approaching,
here’s my report.
For starters, the Web supplied an endless font of trivia and historical tidbits to enliven our days. I learned that a great debate still
rages over who was the “Benedict” in eggs Benedict; that ancient mythologists believed fish were so afraid of the ospreys that they
turned up their bellies in surrender; and that care packages like the one we sent my nephew at camp had their origins feeding starving
Europeans in World War II.
Online videos are another boon to summer. When my 6-year-old daughters were upset that we didn’t awaken them at midnight
to watch a brief light show on the Eiffel Tower, a quick trip to YouTube did the trick. My father used seaturtle.org to teach my girls how
sea turtles emerge from the Atlantic near our home on Tybee Island, Ga., and lay eggs. Injured turtles are implanted with G.P.S.
devices, allowing them to be tracked online. One surprising way that being plugged in improved our vacations was using newfangled
resources to solve oldfangled problems. Bugs, for one. I used the Internet to find a home remedy for the slugs eating my begonias
The Web also helped give us the feeling that we saw people more than we did. While it’s fashionable to complain that we’re
overly connected, I still found an occasional, virtual interaction with a friend or family member to be as pleasant as running into them on
the beach. I texted with my 12-year-old nephew about geocaching when we get together. My kids Skyped with my parents about
learning to swim.
And our devices were lifesavers when my daughter Tybee took a spill and had to be hurried to the hospital for stitches. A friend
who took care of Tybee’s twin, Eden, e-mailed us a photo of her noshing on pizza to assure us she was fine. When Tybee got nervous,
the doctor asked her what movies she should download on her iPad for her son. And just before the procedure, I received a
heartwarming text: “Dear Tybee, you are such a brave girl, love Eden.”
(Adapted from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/14/fashion/this-life-a-plugged-in-summer.html?pagewanted=all)