Our effort at keeping devices off during family time — roughly three hours a night — continues. The biggest challenge of day 4 came when I realized it was 5 pm, and I’d yet to log day 3. Would I grant myself an exception, and blog for a few minutes so that day 3 would get recorded? I decided to stick to the letter (and spirit) of the law.

On day 3 (Wednesday night) we took the kids out for a dinner. We went to a Japanese restaurant that was perfectly kid-friendly (in fact there was another kid there) but by no means a kid restaurant. It’s the kind of setting in which we usually whip out our iPads and iPhones right away to keep the kids distracted and quiet until the food arrives. But this week our devices stayed tucked away, and much to our delight the kids behaved beautifully.

For the past several months, we’ve been working on all eating at the dinner table without TV, gadgets etc., but this was the first time we saw how those efforts have paid off. Even without their gadgets, our kids were perfectly civilized, and sat nicely at the table before and during dinner (after was another story….Pnut is a dine-and-dash type, so once he finished eating it was a struggle to keep him at the table.). And we realized that we’ve been using our gadgets to solve a problem that no longer exists — or at least, is much less acute.

Day 4 was a fresh challenge: date night. When we have the treat of a babysitter, we often go out to dinner, but it’s typically to a restaurant with wifi so that we can geek out over our meal. When it was time to go out last night, we were both torn about whether to go out for a night of geekery, or for dinner and a movie. We decided to honor the spirit of our gadget-less family hour by having a gadget-less date, though we stashed the computers in car just in case….we changed our minds? the movie sold out? there was some kind of computer emergency? I’m not sure what the scenario was, but it felt like bringing our security blankets along.

Without the kids around, we relaxed our rules quite a bit — too much, I think. We used my iPhone to find a movie theatre and movie time, and to look up reviews on metacritic. The phones stayed out of sight over dinner (itself a major accomplishment; we typically tweet our way through dates).  While we were waiting for the movie to start I asked Rob to look at a couple of blog posts that I wanted to talk with him about; he read them on his iPhone, and I re-read them on mine. But once we started talking I found the movie theatre’s pre-show show (nonstop footage of ads, Hollywood news, TV previews, etc) to be very distracting; if it’s becoming harder and harder to unplug, it’s not only due to our individual choices, but also to the nonstop onslaught of video and images that fill up more and more of our empty spaces.

As soon as the movie was over we were back to our iPhones and IMDB so we could look up this or that actor, or this or that movie-related factoid. I snuck in a quick e-mail and Twitter check too; it felt weird to be disconnected for so many hours. Then I stopped myself: I had ten more minutes with Rob, and I actually wanted to talk with him!

Once we got home, we grabbed our respective iPads like they were the floatation devices we’d found after three hours bobbing lost in the ocean. It’s how we like to relax, and an evening together didn’t substitute for the wind-down time we each need on our own.

If there was one lesson in our gadget-less (ok, gadget-reduced) date night, it was the reality of this trade-off. We get babysitters more often than most of our friends do — probably 6 nights a month. But half of those typically go to vaguely work-related ends: social media gatherings, dinners with colleagues, etc. That means that we get about three nights “off” a month.

We typically spend those three nights in the way that we both find relaxing and joyable: by geeking out online. But being online beside (or across) from one another is different from being together.  It’s a night out and a night off, but it’s not a date night.

Last night was different. It was a night off, and it was a night together. And if it left me feeling a little less connected to the people who share my world online, it left me feeling a little more connected to the person who shares my home and my life.