Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Confessions of a Screen Addict

I always swore I would never get a smart phone.

I don't have anything against smart phones. I think they're neat. I like playing Fruit Ninja and Pudding Monsters and Toca Band. I think it's cool that people can answer my emails without actually having to go to their computers. (Side note: the first time one of my professors sent me an email "sent from my iPhone" when I was in college, it blew my mind a little bit. Why on earth was my professor answering me when she was clearly not sitting at her desk during working hours? But I digress.)

My problem with smart phones is actually just my personal problem with being a screen addict. Even with just a laptop I checked facebook and my email more than is strictly necessary for anyone who isn't an extremely narcissistic teenager. And seriously, do you know what I get in my email? About a million different mailers from companies who have my email address because I entered a contest on facebook by signing up for their email list. All of which I delete without reading. And yet.

But then my baby drooled on my faux-Blackberry with no actual features, and I had to get a new one, and honestly, the smart phones were just neat and not that expensive compared to the really terrible flip phones and . . . well, there you have it.

Which is great except that I am a stay-at-home mom, and sometimes my days get a little boring because I spend them with someone who doesn't talk yet, and I need someone to talk to. Plus, I take about a million pictures of her a day, and it seems a shame not to show them to people - message them to my mom, upload them to Instagram and Facebook, make a collage of her eating bananas, etc. (My life. It is one big roller coaster of excitement.)

Which brings us to my screen-free week challenge a few weeks ago. I set very specific rules for myself, and honestly, it started out great. On Sunday, after a nice day of spending time with my family, going to church, cooking a nice dinner and putting the baby to bed, Eric and I played Zombie Fluxx, followed by a round of Scrabble where, because they were on our minds, we got extra points for words that could be linked to zombies.

Can you find "eater," "alone," "meaty," "ax," "goon," and other words that got me extra zombie points?

And on Monday, I cleaned my house while my baby was napping, because I wasn't getting sucked into reading some article someone posted on Facebook while I was "making sure she was asleep." And I cleaned faster because I didn't have Netflix going on the iPad! I did laundry! I did dishes! I mopped the floor! I baked bread! The angels rejoiced! When the baby was awake, we went and played in the grass and enjoyed the beautiful sunshine. All was good in the world.

And then a cold front came in on Tuesday and we were stuck inside for the rest of the week. Of course.

By about Wednesday, it was starting to get a little old. I was sneaking a few extra looks at Facebook while I was nursing the baby. I was looking completely unnecessary things up on Wikipedia. (Yes, this children's book that Eric brought home from the thrift shop because of the illustrations WAS written by James Carville the political strategist! What do you mean I could have just gotten out the CD player and listened to the reading to see if it was him?) I was sick of my Pandora stations. (Okay, people need to stop making recordings of Les Mis. You can't listen to a Broadway-themed station (especially when your tastes in musicals tend the way mine do) without hearing "One Day More" about 14,000 times from every different recording.) I was out of podcasts (which I figured I could listen to when I set the phone aside, because that totally worked). And on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, my husband was gone late because he was filming a conference of green dentists. (Do you know how bad dentistry can be for the environment? Apparently it's really bad.) Thursday I was a good girl and read Watership Down while I waited for him to get home at 10:30. But by Friday I was just lonely, and it was quiet, and the rabbits were talking about something boring with a seagull, and I caved. I watched an episode of The West Wing while I ate dinner. I scrolled through pictures of my baby on my phone. I looked at Facebook without commenting on anything in the hopes that no one would notice I'd been online.

Just writing it out like this, I feel a little like I am confessing that I am a crack addict.

I really enjoyed limiting my screen time for the first few days. I felt liberated. I accomplished more. I was happier. I just haven't figured out how to translate it all into my every day life except to say that apparently I need more to do than clean my house and play with my baby, because once the house is clean, I need some interaction, and it doesn't always feel like I can just run over to a neighbor's house for it.

BUT. When the weather is good, CB and I go outside and sit in the sun where I can't see my smartphone screen. And sometimes a neighbor comes and talks to us, and sometimes we just look at grass and bugs and feel the wind and check the mail and try to keep CB from eating the mail. So maybe that's a start.

Melissa felt inspired by my goal, probably because she hadn't talked to me yet. Here are her thoughts about her experience, which seems remarkably similar to mine.


Inspired by Meg’s endeavor, I too decided to participate in a Screen Free week. I mostly wanted to do it for the sake of my children. My three year old has an affinity for my iPod and my husband’s Nexus tablet. She can also peruse Netflix with the best of them. I’ll admit, I have used the TV or other screens as a babysitter so that I could shower, clean, cook, or fall into an exhausted stupor. In fact, I’m doing it right now as I write this with my kids beside me, watching Doc McStuffins.

I decided I needed to prepare my family because it was going to come as a huge blow to them, except apparently it really wasn’t. I told my oldest daughter that we were doing a screen free week and she was pretty stoked. Sure, the removal of screens would be hard at first (she thought it was because she was in trouble) but she was looking forward to playing more and reading more and talking more. She became the screen police, watching me every time I’d text message someone ("A phone has a screen, Mom!").

Was our week a success? Yes and no. I failed in that we didn’t make it 24/7 without the aid of a screen. On Friday my husband went out of town for three days and I just HAD to hand over my iPod a few times, or turn on a movie because being a single mom for a weekend was too exhausting (it also made me appreciate actual single mothers). 

This week opened my eyes to how often I actually defer to a screen. I take my kids to the park three or four times a week. We go to the library and Discovery Museum at least once during the week. We also do some sort of play date or something or other at some point. I’m not entirely neglectful, but I find when I’m not schlepping my children off to some adventure, much of our down time takes place in front of a screen.

I also realized that a huge part of life plays out online. It’s great to be nostalgic and long for the days of face to face interaction, but who would I experience that kind of life with if most people are socializing on Facebook?

Meg: I confess that I give technology the power to take over my life more often than I should. I confess that even though this experience was eye-opening for me, I still do. But I also confess that it fills me with so much joy that my baby loves flipping through books and playing outside more than she likes playing with my phone right now, and I'd like to keep it that way, so I'm going to keep fighting my addiction.

No comments: