One Family’s Tech Story – An interview with Adam Savage of Mythbusters

Adam Savage is a maker, TV producer, public speaker and host, editor-in-chief of, a father, and a husband. Jenny Kepler is a licensed marriage and family therapist who also writes for FamilyTech. Jenny took some time to learn a little bit more about Adam and his family’s experiences with technology.

JK — The world has changed more in the 18 years since your twins were born than it has since the Industrial Revolution. Did you see this tech revolution coming?

AS — Nobody saw how much smartphones were going to change everything. I’m an early adopter: I had a cell phone long before most people I knew did, because I love the gear! But smartphones are an elaboration of cell phone technology that’s exponential. I’ve lived in San Francisco through two dotcom booms, and seen a lot of technology come and go. The smartphone has really changed everything.

JK — When did you realize your kids were natives in this new world?

AS — I always knew this would be the case! When my kids were born in ’99 I used to joke that within a few years I would be asking them how to wave my hands to operate the glowing blue cube that controls everything in our house. That blue cube isn’t quite here yet, but, almost…My kids do a lot to help with the IT needs in my house.

JK — What has surprised you about the way your kids use technology?

AS — I love how much taking photos and sharing them with each other makes me feel close to each of the members of my family in different ways. When I was growing up, a photo was a special occasion: it was on film, it cost something to develop. But, now photos are more like a conversation we’re all having. Watching my kids get excited about good photos they take, and photos they like of mine, and also just being able to use that tech to experience where they are, and to share what we’re doing, is lovely.

JK —  How has tech influenced your parenting? Have your ideas about parenting changed with the times?

AS — A lot of parenting is about attenuating the granularity with which you manage your kids. They always want more independence, and parents are inclined to less independence. The truth lies somewhere in between. The same has happened in my family with technology. There have been times I’ve monitored my kids texts and emails very closely, there’s also been times in which I realized that my kids needed a much longer leash in order to experience their adulthood coming. I do believe that the advent of cell phones has allowed me to let my kids travel farther from home, earlier than they might have 10 years ago.


JK —  How do you regulate tech time? Have you used it as part of a reward/consequence system?

AS — Oh man, we have always regulated tech time, with greater and lesser degrees of success. The operating parameter for us is that an unlimited amount of screen time is just plain bad for a kid. My wife and I both grew up with restrictions on our television watching. We felt that that had a beneficial effect on us and we moved to implement that with the kids. But managing television time is a lot easier than managing smartphone time, especially now that so many different devices come with screens attached. The most regular restriction we’ve had throughout my kids lives has been that they have to turn in their cell phones every night. This has not always gone as planned. They learned they could sneak upstairs and get their phones back after I’m asleep. They’ve learned that I’m much less likely to check if we have company over. One son even handed me a dummy phone every night for several weeks until he was caught. I had a difficult time with that. I had a grudging admiration for how ballsy he was, at the same time as I needed to come up with a real restriction, a natural consequence for his actions. I made him use a flip phone for about six months. He HATED it. It was awesome. I remember somewhere in the middle of that he complained that the punishment sucked, and I told him that’s how I knew it was working!

JK — What lessons have you learned?

AS — When you’re in the middle of what feels like a war of attrition, it’s hard to imagine you’re having any effect. But, the studies that I’ve read seem to indicate that any restriction is actually useful. That the very notion that a restriction is necessary is itself the valuable lesson. I totally jibe with this.

JK — Yes, healthy boundaries are good boundaries! Technology adds a layer of complexity to raising kids, but it also makes life so much easier. What piece of tech could you guys not live without?

AS — Oh, the smartphone! Being able to contact my kids on the fly is so useful. The smart phone allows me an immediacy of parental consciousness that’s reassuring. Truly, all we want as parents is to be able to be reachable by our kids if they need to be rescued from somewhere. And smartphones are the perfect tool for that.

JK — You’re on the road a lot. Does technology bring you guys together?

AS — When I travel I check in regularly with my family. The phone is fine for that, but I really, really love video/phone tech, like FaceTime, or Skype. I’ve eaten entire dinners with my kids and my wife where I was sitting on the back of a bus in Raleigh, North Carolina, and they were at the dining room table at our house in San Francisco. It truly felt like we were all eating together. That’s incredible! I feel like this is one of the areas where augmented reality is going to really shine. Imagine being able to see my family sitting in front of me (which is totally doable using the technology); it thrills me. Also on the road I find text much more convenient than email. I don’t always have Internet access, even though the bus has its own router. So my cell phone becomes a key lifeline to my family.

Jenny Kepler, MA, LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist and writer who has been helping families navigate parenthood for over 10 years. Her office is in downtown Portland, OR where she does in person therapy with adults, couples and families. She also offers parent coaching over the phone for people who can’t see her in Portland.

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