Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Compulsory Screens—and Screen-Compulsions

I broke my Screen-Free Week pledge within 60 minutes of waking up on the first day—by walking into the gym. After drifting into my usual exercise-induced trance, I startled awake to find myself reading a news crawl on one of the eight wall-mounted televisions, each tuned to a different station.

That prepared me, however, for the coming week. I was going to have to be vigilant not just about the screens I chose to give up, but about screens over which I have no control. I did pretty well—and I’m proud of it.

The truth is that my hopes about reading more, taking time to do nothing, and going to the circus didn’t materialize—a death in the family had me on a plane to Detroit and spending time with several generations of cousins. I found myself wondering if grief exempted me from Screen-Free Week—or if being cut off from email during the day meant that I could check it at night—despite my pledge that I wouldn’t. I decided to stick to my promises to myself—and here’s what I learned:
  • After four hours offline I start going through withdrawal. I don’t break out in a sweat, but I feel vaguely antsy, anxious and disconnected. That got better as the week progressed.
  • It is really hard for me to be in the presence of a screen without watching it—and watching is automatic. I discovered this not only at the gym, but when I walked into a room where a five year old was watching the Berenstain Bears (I don’t even like the Berenstain Bears—but there I was for a minute or two watching them until I remembered what week it was).
  • It’s difficult to avoid Facebook even when I’m not on it. Postings on Facebook came up in conversation among my cousins several times a day. Question: If someone repeats a Facebook post to you verbatim is that a violation of Screen-Free Week?
  • I am grateful for friends on the West Coast whom I could call late at night—a time when I’m most vulnerable to screens. And it was lovely to connect to them really instead of virtually.
  • It’s helpful to have rules.
I also confirmed something I long suspected—for me, screen time isn’t really relaxing. Reading relaxes me. So does walking, and good conversation with friends and family.

And it was great to get on top of what I’m pretty sure is a compulsion if not an addiction. I’m about to go away for two weeks, and while I’m gone I’m going to figure out a set of rules for myself for all year round.

P.S. My cousin Jordan threatened to photoshop and post a picture of me glued to a screen during SFW. So if you see one, it’s fake. Honest.

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