internet

The Mobile Internet Device My Family Loves

Written on July 20, 2012 at 4:17 pm , by

I receive a lot of high-tech gear to try out. Some of it I like. Some of it I don’t. And some of it wheedles its way into our lives and becomes part of the family. It’s usually easy to predict what devices will do this: those that let us enjoy entertainment together or communicate better. But recently a goofy little doodad I expected to be useful only while traveling has become a device we will all miss–if my kids will let me send it back.

It started innocently enough. In advance of our recent road trip, I agreed to try out a Verizon Jetpack 4G LTE Mobile Hotspot MiFi 4620L ($50 with a contract). This pocket-sized device is a Wi-Fi hotspot. It connects to Verizon’s fast 4G LTE cellular network and allows you to connect up to 10 devices so everyone can surf the Net from their own device: Laptops, tablets, Kindles, cell phones that are reaching their data limit, whatever you have. (The plans are explained here.)  I thought it would make our long drive to the mountains more pleasant if the teens could get online. And whoever wasn’t driving could get a little work done in the car. It certainly worked, the car trip was peaceful and productive for all of us. It even saved us when our hotel room didn’t have Wi-Fi.

What I didn’t expect was that this little device would be so wildly popular while we were at home.

Two weeks into this summer, I shut off the cable TV and Internet to our house. I was tired of arguing with my kids over screen time. I gave them two weeks to work out a reasonable schedule that didn’t involve spending all day in front of a screen. At the end of two weeks, they were both still “working on it” (or so they said) so I cancelled everything.

Of course, this left us all bereft of video entertainment. But this was fun for a while. We all read more. We went to the beach in the evenings. But then my sister recommended a British detective show I hadn’t seen. This genre is a particular weakness of my mine and husband’s and we wanted to see it. So he and I snuck off to our room, connected our Roku to the MiFi and watched. It worked beautifully! The show didn’t hiccup, stall, or pause at all. We were back online! But it was our little secret.

We got all the way through–over the course of a week or so–four episodes of our new favorite TV show before Ava stormed our room demanding to know how we were watching TV. We giggled like schoolchildren while she studied our rig and figured it out. Then she demanded the password, went back to her room, and logged on from her Kindle Fire.

Ever since, the MiFi has been at the center of a family game of Spy vs. Spy. I shut it off and put it in my purse when I leave the house so my teens can’t watch TV all and surf the Net all day. But when I get home, my little pickpockets go looking for it so they can log on. Then they hide it from me. When they aren’t looking, I steal it back. And then we do it all again. It has made getting onto the Net a game–so far mostly a good humored one.

But now, the loan agreement is over and I have to send the MiFi back to Verizon. And neither of my teens is talking. They don’t usually agree about anything. But on this, they have formed a pact of silence–refusing to relinquish its whereabouts. That’s okay. I’m up for the challenge. I’ll find it.

Christina Tynan-Wood writes the Family Tech column for Family Circle, and is the author of “How to Be a Geek Goddess.” You can find her at GeekGirlfriends.com, as well as here on Momster.com.