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.

 

3:30 Thursday, Projects

Getting from A to B

The 3:30 Project is a collaborative blog by three lifelong friends: Maggie, Mary Margaret and Jillian. The three of us live in very different places: urban, suburban and small town. That means the three of us travel from A to B in different ways. It’s been said that life is a journey, not a destination, so we’re talking about our daily journeys.


Mary Margaret 

As I hinted at last week, I’m a proud NYC public transit commuter. Most mornings I catch the B/Q line from Church Avenue, and most evenings, I’m hopping off at Parkside. My regular commutes average 45-60 minutes each way- depending on day, hour, which theatre I’m headed to—and train karma, of course.

New York residents, like people complaining about traffic in car-dependent cities, love to complain about the MTA. But we also love to tell train stories. Everyone has them. Seriously. Just introduce an anecdote in a group, and you’ll unleash a related stream of experiences— at times hilarious, tragic, disgusting, soul-affirming– tales of eerie coincidence, bizarre circumstance, near-disaster, poignant encounters. The reason we have so many stories is that when you commute by train or bus, you commute with people— not next to them in a climate-controlled, sealed pod of metal– with them. You don’t sympathetically witness the child having a silent melt down in the car next to you at the light…the child is kicking and jostling YOU and screeching in YOUR ear at impossible pitches. The couple fighting on the way home from the party they just attended—you’re there, too. And sometimes, you are the person crying on the train, tears sliding quietly down your nose. For better or worse, you see, hear, touch, (and smell) your fellow man.

I complain occasionally about the train (I’m looking at you man clipping his fingernails, or you, Mr. Conductor making unintelligible, gobblydegook intercom announcements). Mostly, though, I love my commute. I love time to read, crossword, think, make lists, play podcasts, observe. It’s a chance to decompress from my day— physically and mentally separating my workday in Manhattan from my home life in Brooklyn.

Also, I like my train stories, or perhaps more specifically: where they come from. Commuting forces me to cram myself in with humanity, sitting and standing with people of all ages, geographic and cultural backgrounds, life situations, moods—going different places for different purposes. It requires patience, but I also think it moves my thinking (while literally moving me) in another important way.

Here’s a sample of things I’ve seen on the train:

  •  Someone being silly-stringed
  •  Woman transporting giant potted palms (She informed me they were for her porch…so she doesn’t have to see her neighbors naked through their window anymore)
  • Man wielding a samurai sword
  • My friend Molly, literally seconds after texting her: “Hope to see you soon!”
  • Eating, kissing, handstands, peeing, vomiting, drawing, opera-singing, drug-           use, preaching, balloon-animal making, fingernail painting, mariachi bands…

I could continue, but my point is that eventually nothing surprises you anymore. Instead of hardening or inuring me, though, I actually think it’s opened me up. Traveling with people, even without direct engagement or conversation has the capacity to stimulate empathy and compassion. If I’m paying attention, being with strangers reminds me of the uniqueness of individuals, and forces acceptance that my life and moment-by-moment experiences are just one in the sea of experiences happening around me.


Maggie

I’m sure we’ve all heard the proverb that you shouldn’t judge a person until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.

I commute about a mile to work every day. Most days, I pack my diaper bag, strap my daughters into their car seats, double check to be sure I’ve brought a snack and drive in.

But, some days I walk.

My ride…sometimes
Just before my second child was born, my husband and I decided that we wanted to try only having one car. We work together, so we commute to the same place every day. We have two kids, and I didn’t want to have to get car seats for the other car. On top of that our second car was getting older, needed repairs, and we were driving it so little that sometimes the battery would die from under-use. We sold the car and didn’t replace it.

I was excited by this development in my life because it was an opportunity to experiment with consciously appreciating what I have and only having what I need. For my life, I do need one car, but I don’t need two. Consequently, there have been days when due to the occasional need or want for my husband and me to not be in the same place, nap time or bed time that I have found myself walking to or from work.

This has given me the opportunity to walk a mile in my own shoes.

The mile between my home and my work is not the kind of place that people in my community usually walk. The side walks are well kept and it’s a safe community, but it’s also along a busy road and most people drive.

When I walk, I notice how far a mile really is. I notice how green everything is, the sounds of local wildlife and cars, the temperature (usually hot), and how much slower it is to walk than to drive. In my car, I’m at work in 5 minutes if I get stopped at every possible stopping point. I feel like it’s a traffic jam if I get stopped at a red light. But when I walk, it can take 20 minutes.

I find that when I walk to work, I start my day energized and focused because I’ve used my body. Or if I walk home, I’m relaxed and ready to wind down. I get some of my best ideas and do some of my clearest thinking when I’m walking.

My commute has given me the sort of luxurious experience of knowing I have what I need to travel to and from where I need to be and that if needed, I can put on my shoes and my feet will take me where I need to go. It’s weirdly freeing to know that I can get by without all the “things” that are supposed necessities for modern life.

The world is full of advertisements (I pass by 3 billboards on my walk to work) that are telling us that we don’t have enough, that we need the newer, better, bigger thing. But, my feet will get me to work just as effectively as my car (maybe not as quickly and certainly not as comfortably on a rainy day!), but this small act of going against the grain of modern life has made me weirdly happy.


Jillian

I live in one of those cities that hovers around the bottom of most top ten lists for the worst traffic in America. One of those cities that is big, but not big enough to justify the sixty hours annually our people spend in gridlock. At rush hour you can hear our groans rise up from the streets like the anguished souls of the damned crying out from the river Styx.

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My commute. You might recognize this as literal Hell according to tv’s Supernatural.
Of course, secretly we’re damn proud of that stagnant smog-swamp we crawl through every day. We compare and judge: Whose misery is the most miserable? Whose despair is the most complete? We suffer with a righteous pride, the martyrs of suburban sprawl.

I used to commute from the burbs to downtown, but I had a different secret. I didn’t hate the traffic. I didn’t even “love to hate” the traffic. I actually kind of liked it.

I’d leave work as I think most people do, full of crushed dreams and existential crises. I’d maneuver my sedan through a nauseatingly winding parking deck, dodge the jaywalking hipsters, glacially slide onto the freeway, and start inching my way home.

But the thing about gridlock is once you’ve reached your lane, you can make the whole drive in a semi-dissociative state. So I’d turn up the radio as loud as I could stand, and just sing.

I could turn the car into a solid bubble of sound, where it’d be just me and Lady Gaga, usually. Two souls burnin’ roads. That’s where I could own my anger and my fear and my strength and my faith. That’s where my spirit could mend. My own Electric Chapel.

And if it took me an hour to get home, that might be just right for me to walk through the door as myself again.

It’s as if there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. For me, I could be bounded in a gridlock and count myself a Queen of infinite space, so long as I have my Artpop.

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But I won’t betray my people. If you ask me about the traffic, I’ll tell you it’s hell. Pure misery.