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.

200545827-001

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.

smartphones2_persona

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

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.