In honor of what’s turning into tech (or non-tech) week here at On The Banks. I’m reposting my thoughts, observations and tips from a tech sabbath I practiced in 2017 for my blog The Three Thirty Project. I think these observations are still relevant. Read to the end for some updated thoughts and reflections on my day without screens!
I approached screen free day as a day long meditation practice. I expected that I would experience a certain amount of tech withdrawal – a strong urge to sit down at my computer or reach for my phone, and I didn’t want to spend the day judging myself. In mindfulness practice, they say that when you come back to your breath (or the object of your practice) from being distracted, your return to the present moment and that feeling of “waking up” is the practice. Screen Free Day felt like many moments of waking up.
Normally, in moments of downtime, I mindlessly start scrolling through pictures, posts and articles on social media. I check my email. I send a quick text message. But on Screen Free Day, with nothing to do with my hands, I worked on a writing project, I sat down at our new-to-us piano (which I found from a stranger on Facebook…) and practiced. Things I’ve been telling myself for months that “I don’t have time for” suddenly got my attention.
One of the things I noticed immediately was how many roles my phone has in my life.
- A camera
- A newspaper
- A radio
- A bulletin board
- A telephone
- A telegraph
- A television
- A post office
- A way to connect with friends and family
- A marketing tool
- A personal organizer
- An encyclopedia
- A dictionary
- A map
- A calculator
- A way to disengage from the problems or irritations of the moment
A place to let your better angels run wild
Being unplugged from technology for a day reminded me of the Spring of my sophomore year in college. Back then, Facebook was “new” and you had to have a “.edu” email address to get an account. That fall, Facebook caused a lot of unnecessary drama in my life, so I gave it up for what ended up being most of a semester. While I enjoyed not having the distraction and drama, I was a pretty lonely semester. My friends made plans for lunch dates, shared jokes, and communicated on Facebook, so I missed out on those things by being off the grid. I realized that I was willing to risk a little drama to stay involved with my friends and reactivated my account.
I also feel like I bring my best self to my social media accounts in a way that I struggle to bring my best self to the real world. Not just in the “I only share my best moments online, so my life seems way better online than it is in real life” way. In the real world, I stumble over my words, can never think of the right thing to say, and generally – in my fear of seeming weird, being offensive or struggling with my critical inner voice – I hold back. Some people use the anonymity of the screen to say terrible things to others that they’d never say in person.
I tend to skew in the opposite direction – when I’m hiding behind my screen and have time to chew on my thoughts, think about others feelings, and how best to put something – I tend to be kinder, more thoughtful and more generous in virtual spaces than I am in the real world. Whereas an internet troll may let their demons run wild in the online space, I tend to let my better angels run wild.
It’s a Trap!
Trap 1: I need to hide behind the screen to be my best self
On the other hand…is that a trap? Is that just what the internet wants me to think? Perhaps if I devoted the time I spend curating my online presence volunteering in my community, joining toastmasters to work on my public speaking, or facing real people instead of virtual people, I’d find that I could be my online self in real life.
Trap 2: I only see what I want to see
One of the things my day without screens made me most aware of is how customized my online experience is. It’s nice to have a tailored experience – I see my favorite friend’s posts more frequently; I see news that’s related to other stories I’ve read from sources I find reputable and interesting; I hear music and radio shows that I like and choose whenever it’s convenient for me to listen.
But…what am I not hearing, reading or seeing?
If I got a printed newspaper every day, I would undoubtedly see news or hear stories that the editor of the newspaper thought were important that I might never choose for myself. And that is both good and bad. By choosing my own news, I get what’s interesting to me. But, I think it’s valuable to read, watch and listen to the perspective of people who grate on my nerves, who challenge my preconceived notions, and who don’t always say what I want to hear.
A sense of calm
My kids interrupt me constantly. It’s what they do. I hear “MOM!” at least 100 times a day. And most days, that sound fills me with anger. Usually, it’s pulling me from something I’m working on, reading or doing, and I find that constant interruption of my concentration and the inability to work deeply and focus on something to be infuriating and frustrating. But…on Screen Free Day…I felt focused and even though the interruptions kept coming, I didn’t feel angry.
For several days after Screen Free Day, I felt a residual sense of calm and focus. I also felt less pulled to the virtual world. I made fewer posts, fewer comments, got less carried away on social media or news sites. And…it was kind of amazing. I enjoyed silence and hearing the noise of the world around me.
As I said before, I think there is a lot of good to be found from connecting and staying in touch with friends and family online. It’s how my children know what their grandparents look like. It’s how I’m able to stay in touch with my sisters and friends who live all over the country. It’s how I learn what’s going on in the world, and it’s also how I’m sharing this story with you.
But, in the spirit of mindfulness, I’m going to work on my practice of screening less. Here are the practices I intend to adopt:
6 Practices to help you screen less
- Have a screen free hour every day
- Note: obviously, we all have an hour in the day where we probably don’t happen to be looking at a screen. But, I want to take an hour of the day to do this on purpose.
- Maybe you put the phone down and watch your child’s practice or play with them.
- Maybe you drive to work without music, radio or podcasts playing.
- Maybe write out something by hand instead of typing it.
- Have a screen free day once a week or month
- Note: I would like to have a weekly screen free day, but I do a lot of preparation for the week using my computer, and my job requires I work at a computer – at least a little – every day. I had to do a good bit of pre-work and catch up to make screen free day happen. I’m not ready to do it every week, but I know I could do this once a month.
- Instead of using the tools on my phone – get some of those specific things: a calculator, a camera, a newspaper instead
- Be mindful of your curated experience
- seek out sources, stories, people and information that are off your beaten path
- If you like the person you are online, try to bring that person to the real world.
- Make a date to meet someone in person
- Show up to a community event or meeting
- Volunteer somewhere
- Go to a live show or concert
- Try a new restaurant
- Say something nice to someone’s face.
- Have a space in your home or life where there are no screens
- The main living area of my home does not have a television or computer in it. We did that on purpose because we wanted to avoid the temptation to check out or veg out when we’re together as a family. I find this makes it easier to play board games, pull out a puzzle, have a conversation or do things that help us engage in a face to face way.
Since I originally posted this piece on The Three Thirty Project, I’ve continued to wrestle with managing my own and my kids Screen Time. I am still surprised by how much time can pass when I’m scrolling through facebook, instagram, or twitter without my realizing it. I’ve tried to set up guard rails to “keep me in the real world,” but I think it’s a real challenge for all of us in the world today to be mindful and manage our own screen time.
I have subscribed to a newspaper. I have tried to bring my whole self to the ‘real world’ by volunteering, joining a church, and getting memberships at the zoo, the national seashore, and the gym near my home. These real world things feel grounding. Feel real.
I also find myself sharing a bit less about my kids life online. I want to let them curate their own online experience and relationships when they’re older. When they’re ready to figure these things out, hopefully with some guidance from me.
I’m curious how other people manage this. Do you think you spend too much time online? Do you avoid social media? Do you take hours, days, or weeks off from your phone, television or computer?
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts!