I value connection. A lot. And I love staying connected to friends and colleagues nearby and around the globe through the many avenues available to me: face to face, on the phone, via text, email, Facebook, and Twitter. I rely on my computer and mobile technology through my phone and tablet. Texting and social media using my phone have become preferred means of connection, and I am rarely without that device in my hand or whatever bag I am carrying. This is a good thing in that it allows me to stay in touch with people who are important to me, stay up on the latest news, have a few laughs, and conduct business wherever I am.
There are downsides, however. I often mediate relationships through a screen. I miss things going on around me because I am looking down at my phone. I believe I must read and respond to every email and text immediately, just because I can, and then people come to expect it. My thumbs begin to ache from texting, and my eyes strain to read print on the small screen (no I have not yet upgraded to the almost-tablet sized phone). I ask myself, am I so important that people need an instant response from me? Do I need to take and send every photo that reminds me of someone? Am I really lost if I’m not connected electronically? I remember how strict I have always been with students who want to engage through devices while traveling: unplug, I tell them. You will be amazed at how it can change your perspective. But what would it be like for me, at home?
So I decided to do an experiment. A friend told me she had been having “Screen-Free Sundays” for the past couple of months, so I decided to try it. Two Sundays into it, and I can report mostly good news. I have stayed away from the computer, tablet and TV, and disabled everything on my phone except the actual phone function. That way I can still make and receive calls, but that is all. What do I notice? At first, itchiness, the automatic desire to pull out my phone and check email or text whenever there is a lull. I remind myself of the experiment. Then, I look around, talk to someone nearby, stare out the window, read, or go outside. I look around more. I notice more when I’m not either thinking about a text I just received, a post I just saw, or imagining something I’m about to post. My thoughts wandered in different directions, and I liked that. I think the best thing was doing something different, messing up my routine, showing me how dependent I am. The hardest part was not only not watching the Seahawks game, but not following it on Facebook or texting about it. Although I must admit, it was kind of fun to go “old school” and listen to it on the radio.
It seems the more we are connected through these devices, the more we also need to disconnect. Not from each other, but from the screens that stand between us. So we can connect with our thoughts, with nature, with silence and with the awkward moments when we don’t know what to do. I plan to continue the experiment, although I might try “Screen-Free Saturdays” when the Seahawks have a game!