Meet the Family That Shuns Technologies Introduced After 1986

The McMillans had a vague sense that gadgets were cheating their children of their childhoods. So they turned to a drastic solution.
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Meet the McMillans. They're like a lot of families -- young, unmarried, with two kids, a boy and a girl -- with one notable exception: They live every day like it's 1986. Not in some vague, listen-to-The Bangles-and-wear-some-Spandex kind of way, but in a manner that is deliberate and drastic and all-encompassing. The McMillans, at home, have given up all technology that was introduced to the world after 1986.

Yes. Which means: phones, but no iPhones. Videos, but no DVDs. Video games, but no Xboxes. Photos, but no Instagrams. TV, but no cable. For a year that started in April, the Toronto Sun reports in a profile of the '80s-tastic Canadians, the McMillans have been doing their banking in person. They've been entertaining themselves with books. They took a family road trip this summer, and navigated using paper maps -- and kept the kids entertained with coloring books and stickers. 

And their excellent adventure doesn't end with technology alone. Blair McMillan, family patriarch, has doubled down on his Back to the Future lifestyle: For one very major thing, he wears a mullet. ("Business in front, party in the back,” he explains.) His kids do, too.

So. Yes. You might be asking why a family that is not currently the subject of an M. Night Shyamalan movie would adopt a lifestyle that is as aggressively retrograde as this one. You might also be wondering whether this is a hoax or, at the very least, a Balloon Boy-style publicity ploy. It is neither, Blair McMillan insists. While, yes, he's considering producing a documentary and/or writing a book about his year of living fluorescently, the broader point of the technological cutoff, McMillan says, has been to reclaim some of his family life from technology. (And it's been working, he insists. The kids, probably because they're so young -- 5 and 2 --have been cooperative with the drastic lifestyle change. The "project just to get closer and reunite the family," McMillan says, has been "working out awesome.")

The experiment started, he notes, with something that will make the McMillans familiar to a lot of families: a vague sense that gadgets were cheating their children of their childhoods. Earlier this year, Blair McMillan says, he was hanging out outside the house, and he asked his 5-year-old son Trey to join him. Trey refused. He was too busy with his iPad.

“That’s kind of when it hit me," Blair tells the Sun, "because I’m like, wow, when I was a kid, I lived outside."

That's when Blair and the family matriarch, Morgan, decided to drastically de-techify their lives. They gave up their cell phones. They deleted their Facebook accounts. They cut the cable. They established a box for visitors to stash their phones, tablets, and other gadgets while hanging out in the McMillan home. And they dealt, in the process, with friends and family and business associates who (reasonably) questioned their newfound lifestyle choices. While Morgan uses a computer at work, Blair, he says, has taken things farther -- to the extent that he's lost business. (Imagine if you were reliant on fax machines for document transmissions). And he's had trouble getting more work, as well, because so many workplaces now only accept job applications online.

Then again, Blair points out, the cost of living is reduced when you're not paying for cable and Internet and data plans. "It’s way cheaper," Blair says. Plus, "everybody just gives me stuff."

So why 1986, you ask, as opposed to, say, the perfectly regressable years that were 1985 and 1987? Because 1986 was the year both Blair and Morgan were born. “We’re parenting our kids the same way we were parented for a year just to see what it’s like," Blair explains. One concession they've kept to the contemporary world, however: their car. The McMillans, before April 2013 and after it, have driven a 2010 Kia. But -- 1986! -- they don't use GPS.

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Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.

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