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Switch Off by Angela Lockwood

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Part I The burden of connection

The background hum of the television was mostly drowned out by the whirr of the oven and the ruckus of the kids getting ready for dinner, until a prime-time television news report broke through the noise and caught my attention. A revolutionary new ‘boot camp' had been started in South Korea to help kids as young as eight learn how to play with their peers and take time away from technology. In a first of its kind (other such initiatives have since followed), this residential program brought city kids into a natural setting where they got to run outside, build forts and generally mix with other kids — with no iPad, smartphone or television in sight. The idea was to teach children how to be children again, without technology.

I stood in the kitchen, a tea towel draped over my shoulder, riveted to the story. The screen showed boys aged around 9 to 13 standing in loose formation, bringing to mind a scene from M*A*S*H, the military comedy series from the 1970s. Except these were not recruits in army greens but young boys of every shape and size, most of them not looking at all pleased to be there. Their parents waved goodbye anxiously and drove off, leaving their sons in the hands, not of a stern-looking drill sergeant, but of a middle-aged couple who looked more like office workers than boot camp instructors.

But this was no typical boot camp. It was a camp for troubled youth whose main challenge was an addiction to technology that had impacted ...

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