Screen Time

Screen Time
Photo by Nicholas Barr

I spend too much time looking at screens.

I have decided this before, but it screens have proved very persistent at creeping back into the limelight.  They have become a central part of my days, and I am realizing that my balance is off.  I have been crafting my definition of what living simply – with enough, but not too much – means to me for a long time now.   But even with a mindset that is pretty solidly committed to principals of simplicity, it still seems like screens have been taking center stage.   I need to figure out how much screen time is enough, but not too much.

Generally, when I think about living simply, my list includes the following:

  1. I am spending time outside.
  2. I am remaining truly present with people when in their company.
  3. I am doing things slowly and with intention.
  4. I am being fully present in each moment
  5. I am practicing authenticity.  This means I am eating real food (that preferably doesn’t have a barcode), I am being active because I enjoy the activity (Hiking.  Yoga. Planting things.)  or because it accomplishes a task (Weeding.  Picking rocks out of the field. Hauling wood.) and I am putting real energy into relationships (With the neighbors.  With dear friends who live states away.  With family members.)
  6. I feel alive.

Then I think about what my life is like when screens are a central part of the day.  I haven’t really watched television in years, but I spend my work days in front of two computer monitors.  And lately I’ve noticed I spend a fair amount of my non work time interacting with a personal laptop.  Fortunately, I don’t have a smart phone – but I do find myself looking at my phone for no real reason on a regular basis.  I was given a “Nook” e-reader a few years ago and I like it more than I thought I would.  So for whatever reason, screens have worked their way into the fabric of my days.

When I’m looking at a screen,  I have noticed the following:

  1. I am inside, usually not even looking out the window.
  2. I am clicking from one thing to the next and read emails and messages quickly.  I send an email instead of calling.  I type a quick hello on social media profiles instead of emailing.  I just glance at profile pages instead of typing a quick hello.   I am not really present with anyone, I am just skimming the surface as I zip by to the next thing.
  3. I am annoyed if a page takes more than a few seconds to load.
  4. I am never really in the moment because I’m constantly thinking about what to look at next, what to post next, or what the reaction to what I post might be.
  5. I am eating breakfast either while at work, staring at my computer, or I’m eating breakfast at the dining room table…with the laptop as my dining companion.     In the evening- after a full day on the computer at work –I’m scrolling through a Facebook or Twitter feed instead of meditating or writing in a journal or looking at the moon.  I am reading books on an e-reader like it’s a race.   I email my neighbor instead of picking up the phone or stopping by.  And so on.
  6. I feel defeated.

So, due to what I have noticed, I am taking a bit of a screen break from March 5th to April 20th.  The period of Lent seems like a good structure in which to place this hiatus, not because I want to experience deprivation, but because I want to invite all the good that can come from honoring what’s really important to me.  I have a feeling that scrolling through a Facebook news feed is not going to make the list of priorities when it is all said and done.  Sometimes too much of something makes the rest of life feel like it’s not enough.

It’s worth noting that this won’t be a total “fast” since my employer hasn’t yet granted me the sabbatical that I’d like.  Therefore, though I will still need to interact with my work computer for 32 hours per week, I will limit myself to engaging with my personal computer to 1 hour per week, mostly to check email and stay up to date with administrative things that must be done online.   I will get an actual book to read.  I will eat my breakfast in the company of my food and the rising sun and my own thoughts.  I will use a pen to write.  I will sit in stillness.  And I will make more phone calls and knock on more doors.

Screens provide many tools and resources- that goes without saying.  I’m just looking to find my balance by swinging the pendulum back in the other direction for a while.