3:30 Thursday, Projects

6 Practices to help you screen less Tech Sabbath Part 2

On Sunday, August 13 Maggie and Mary Margaret eschewed phones, computers, and televisions, observing a technology sabbath. This week Maggie shares her insights on her 24-hour screen break. Be sure to check out Mary Margaret’s thoughts and read about our preparation for Screen Free Day!


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.

Awareness:

One of the things I noticed immediately was how many roles my phone has in my life.

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It is:

  1. A camera
  2. A newspaper
  3. A radio
  4. A bulletin board
  5. A telephone
  6. A telegraph
  7. A television
  8. A post office
  9. A way to connect with friends and family
  10. A marketing tool
  11. A personal organizer
  12. An encyclopedia
  13. A dictionary
  14. A map
  15. A calculator
  16. 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.

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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. Whereas, 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Instead of using the tools on my phone – get some of those specific things: a calculator, a camera, a newspaper instead
  4. Be mindful of your curated experience
    • seek out sources, stories, people and information that are off your beaten path
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

 

Projects

Clock Radios and Crickets…Tech Sabbath Part 1

On Sunday, August 13 Maggie and Mary Margaret eschewed phones, computers, and televisions, observing a technology sabbath. This week Mary Margaret shares her insights on her 24-hour screen break. 

August 13, 2017: A midnight to midnight fast completed. No phone, no computer, no screens. I unlocked the screen on my phone once for a friend to do a quick baby-check, (which felt oddly like “cheating”) but upon hearing that no one had gone into labor, off went the phone and popped back into my bag.

My conclusion after this measly 24-hour experiment?I present to you the stages of tech withdrawal…

  1. Anxiety, Panic, Bargaining:This was firstly and overwhelmingly related to the alarm clock situation. I was so concerned that something would go awry with the clock radio, I would sleep the morning away, miss work, get fired, and my life would go down in a fireball of ruins. This didn’t happen. I woke up before the alarm even sounded—maybe because I was so anxious about the alarm.  The funny thing was this anxiety prompting a quibbling with myself about the rules of “no-tech-day,” reasoning, well, maybe it’s okay if I use it as an alarm clock, a wristwatch, or a calculator because I don’t carry those things? But I overruled this bargaining, since this was precisely the point!! I was discovering all the things I rely on my phone for, and how it changed things to do without. I adapted; I  made my plans with my friends on Saturday, I looked at wall clocks, I asked strangers for the time, I mused about the weather, I walked over to a store to check their closing time, I pulled out a pocket calculator. I didn’t mind, but it also made me glad that we can do all of these functions with smartphones, because I like simplicity. I’m not a person who wants a kitchen full of appliances that each do one narrowly specific function (oh the apple corer? Yes, just squeeze that in the cabinet between the tree-nut-only food processor and the rice cooker. NOT!) So I’m grateful that I can listen to music, check my email, see the time, make calls, and do calculations without a purse or home full of devices and gadgets. We can discuss later my actual need to DO any of those things on demand, but suffice it to say I like the streamlining a smartphone permits. Obviously when you rely on one thing and it breaks, you’re more temporarily in the lurch, but for me the inconvenience is outweighed by the maintenance and cost of owning and managing everything separately: wristwatch, alarm clock, calculator, music player, landline phone, television, GPS device, etc.
  2. Sweet, sweet relief. And guilt. Once I was headed towards work, past my concerns about the dreaded oversleeping scenario, I felt the freedom of technology sabbath. I’d released myself from the obligation to call anyone, respond to any texts or emails, or engage with news or social media. And full transparency, part of this relief over not having to engage was directly correlated with current events. I wanted to be blissfully ignorant for 24 hours– a free pass from a self-imposed requirement that I stare into the darkness and acknowledge these most recent occurrences of racism and violence in our country. I didn’t want to know what the president was saying or not saying, and I didn’t want to face any further confirmation of the hatred, divisiveness and fear that Trump’s campaign and presidency has allowed to come bubbling up to the surface from malicious undercurrents of our society. Guilt comes into the equation because our accessibility to information has introduced this idea that we are negligent and wrong to NOT engage with this information. My eagerness to escape the influx of bad news from the past week, North Korea to Virginia and everything in between, points to the wearying effect of this burden of information. I wrote at Lent about limiting the number of news sources I was consuming, and Maggie and I have discussed decreasing the number of times we read about the same disheartening event. I don’t think guilt here is a particularly helpful emotion, nor is simply consuming news for the sake of having thoughts or feelings about the events themselves, but I want to maintain sensitivity and awareness to current events if there is a chance for action that promotes love and justice. I certainly wonder if occasional breaks might help me continue to be shocked and motivated, though, rather than merely fatigued by trying to keep informed.
  3. Temptation and Habit: It wasn’t only the news that I was relieved to escape, though. I actually enjoyed not needing to engage with the phone: not digging around in my purse and not having the phone physically in my hand. Of course, though, I am so used to reaching for it, though, I did have to actively stop myself throughout the day. When you put your phone down it leaves you open to notice the ubiquity of tech around you. A time-traveling visitor from the past or alien from a distant planet dropped into a New York City subway car would be forgiven for thinking that humans had an extra metal appendage attached to our hands, so it was interesting to look around the city trying to spot people who weren’t engaged with or simply carrying a device of some kind. Fighting my own habit of phone attachment was good practice. There’s no reason to pull out my phone with the frequency I do, and noticing when I had the impulse to was illuminating. Screens aside, equally strong was the impulse to fill the silence by turning on music, a podcast, or making a phone call. Which leads to my next point…
  4. Openness and Discovery: Disengaging from tech was about decreasing visual and aural stimulation of all kinds, and I truly found myself listening, watching, and observing more throughout the day. Obvious to state, but I was more tuned in to my surroundings and more present with my own thoughts, because I wasn’t listening to or looking at the thoughts and images of others. I realized how habitual my practice of listening to podcasts on my commute home was when I noticed the hum of crickets in Prospect Park as I walked from the train. Even in the middle of the Brooklyn, these creatures chirp, a natural chorus in the midst of the artificial and mechanical buzz of the city. Undoubtedly the best part of tech-free day was this quiet sitting with myself, which is something I typically think I have to leave my “normal” New York City life to engage with. It’s so simple, but I had some nice thinking time, and even mulled over some future writing topics. In releasing myself from the need to engage during the span of a normal day of work and play, without needing to go on a literal vacation, I found a bit of stillness even within that space.

My verdict then as a naturally anxious and somewhat restless soul? I ended tech-free day thinking: so that was tricky. When can we do it again?

3:30 Thursday, Projects

Screen Less?

On Sunday, August 13 Maggie and Mary Margaret are planning a screen free day or technology sabbath. We wanted to make ourselves more aware of the role technology plays in our life and see how we do for a day without them. However, simply preparing for this day has proven worthy of many laughs, insights and challenges.

Mary Margaret

Once Maggie and I agreed to the idea of doing a “screen-free day” as a blog topic for the month of August, we immediately had to begin preparing ourselves for this epic, challenging feat!

Wait a second… a few years ago I didn’t even have a smart phone.  My first year in New York I didn’t have any internet capability on my phone. A few years before that, I didn’t even send texts. A few years before that I didn’t have a personal cell phone….HOW HAVE WE COME TO THIS?!!

I immediately begin thinking through the potential problems and scenarios presented by the idea of not using the phone or the computer for the day. I can do this pretty handily when I am away from work, on a family vacation or something, but in my working, day to day life, the idea sends me into a mild state of anxiety. I’ve certainly felt the wave of panic and then freedom from suddenly realizing on the train that I’ve left my phone at home, but then typically I can still check in through  email communication once I get to work.

Maggie and I proposed screen-free day precisely for this reason; we want to be mindful about the amount of time and energy spent engaging with these devices. We want to make ourselves aware of our addiction to being connected and plugged in. Here are some major anxieties that started to come up when we started discussing the idea:

1. OVERSLEEPING!

My phone serves as my alarm, so I’ll have to pull out that small clock I have somewhere…hmmm, where is that thing?

2. Work contacting me!

I requested we do the experiment on a  Sunday, because Monday is my day off. Since the nature of my job means I frequently hear last-minute stuff the day or evening before. Or morning of. Basically, this comes down to the fact that people EXPECT to be able to contact you at any time, so I’ll just hope our stage manager isn’t frantically trying to get ahold of me to let me know that we’re putting an understudy on in the Sunday matinee.

3. Letting people know

This goes back to expectations. There’s an awareness that people have their phones with them virtually all the time. We spend actual time with many people that we contact by phone; we see them check their phones! We know they look at their phones!! So if we don’t hear from someone that is typically responsive (and I try to be) we may worry or think something is wrong.

4. Making the plan beforehand

We are so used to being able to make last minute changes to plans, and I am getting together with friends on Sunday night, which is typical for me. Only this time we shall have to plan ahead, and then refer to point #3, which is me telling them not to change plans, since I won’t be reachable for last minute upheavals.

5. What if someone I love has a baby?!?!

The last and most pressing current anxiety is that Maggie and I are both on baby watch! In spite of knowing that in ye olde time days, you might have to wait months for a letter to arrive letting you know about the birth of a baby, now neither of us could imagine not knowing (even hundreds of miles away from these births) the instant when our dear friend Jillian and my sister Emily go into labor. Via phone call, Maggie and I we may have concocted a contingency plan that involves friendly confederates roped into looking at our phones FOR US at spaced intervals to screen for baby-related incoming texts or calls. And then naturally there was the tacit agreement  that if a baby is coming, screen-free day  is henceforth finished and postponed until a later time. Maybe to a day far in the future when no one will potentially be sending us cute baby pictures.

…So the moral of the story is that we haven’t even gotten close to screen-free Sunday (coming to torture a blogger near you on August 13) and we are already hopelessly proving the point  about our modern-day screen addiction.

Yes, where’s that alarm clock? And maybe I should start passing out the extension on my land line at work.


Maggie

I have been gearing myself up for a screen free day for weeks. I don’t like to do things cold turkey, so just like when you’re easing into a swimming pool trying to avoid taking the inevitable plunge, I have been trying to use my screens a little less in preparation for our screen free day.

born-ready1. Deleted Social Media Apps from my phone.

I realized about 9 months ago that Facebook was just way too much temptation for me to have available for viewing at all times, so it’s been off the phone for awhile. But, that meant I started exploring the Twitter-verse. And WOW, there are some fascinating, funny and crazy stuff on that platform. So…it’s gone now, too.  There were a couple of other apps I tried that also tend to suck me in, they’re also gone.

2. Attempted to ‘get ahead’ on work I normally do on Sunday.

I like to think that I take my Sundays totally and completely off from work and reserve that day for my family. But…I own a small business, so there’s a part of me that really wants to be available if someone wants information, has a question or needs something on a Sunday. But…maybe it can wait.

3. Starting bringing awareness to when I want to visit social media

There are a couple of tools to help you stay focused when working on computers. Two that I like are called Block Site and Freedom. Block site is an app that will keep you from visiting certain sites during days/times that you specify. So, for example, if I try to visit Facebook, Twitter, certain new sites, etc. during my “working” hours, my browser will redirect me to a website that is raising funds for a cause that is offensive to me. It’s AMAZING how quickly that will make you realize that you’re typing in the URL for Faceboo… before you’ve even thought about it.

Freedom is an app you can use on your phone (or computer) which also blocks sites and apps that you choose during the days/times of your choosing.

I’ve found that I love/hate using these tools. On the one hand, it’s great to keep myself accountable. But, on the other hand, I’d like to think I could have self-control without the aid of an app. But…I think they’ve designed the apps to be that way, so I don’t blame myself.

4. Recognize what I want from my technology

I do really appreciate the way that my phone connects me with my family and friends. I love listening to podcasts, seeing pictures of my friend’s babies, going on vacations vicariously through my friends, learning tricks to help me be a better parent, business owner, wife, homeowner, etc. But I don’t want to be so involved in those things that I miss my own life – my children, my home, my town, etc.

I also don’t want to fall into the trap of viewing my world through an iPhone camera lens, 140 character quips, and filters. Of course, our own beliefs, values and experience serve as a lens that change what we see in our world and in our lives…but at least it’s a 3D representation rather than a curated bunch of pixels. I want my kids to know how to make eye contact, to listen intently, to know what dirt between their toes feels like. I don’t want to make a false choice and say we should all get rid of all our technology, but I don’t want to use it just because it’s there. I think that my phone, my computer and my television are tools. They work very well as tools, but aren’t great masters. So, I’m hopeful, that Screen Free Sunday will be a kick-start on a journey to a more mindful relationship with the screens in my life.