You're doing it. Right now. I am too. It's happening, and you probably aren't even thinking about what you are doing.
You are reading these words from a screen, whether it be from your work computer, staring at your phone on the bus, or perhaps at home looking at your iPad.
In an ever-increasing number of societies around the world, we are constantly surrounded by screens. They are an ingrained part of our lives and are here to stay. But what effect do these virtual images have on our eyes and our brain and our selves? Screens and electronics are arguably a necessary evil. However, you can take steps to ensure that you remain healthy -- and human-- without the need to abandon technology altogether.
THE EFFECTS OF SCREEN TIME
If you do a Google search for "screen time," most of the articles that populate are aimed towards parents controlling how much time their kids spend on their phones. I don't even have little ones yet, and this is already a concern.
But it's not just kids. Adults are affected inside and out from staring at our devices - televisions included. In this article from rallyhealth.com, you can see some of the ways your body can be negatively adapting to electronics at different life stages. For example, adults can develop problems with vision, headaches, sleep disturbances, reward-seeking addiction (the little light alerting you of a text message or the chime from Facebook), and overall health such as weight, diabetes, and heart disease.
So, how do we combat this? Come with me on the journey toward self-rediscovery.
BE IN THE MOMENT
What does it mean to be present, to be aware? If you ride on public transportation, next time you’re on the bus, take a glance around and observe your surroundings. How many people do you see hunched over staring at their screens with their faces illuminated like glowing zombies? Or, even worse, check out the cars around you. Do you see nearly just as many distracted people at the wheel?
If you set the phone down, there are so many interesting things you can observe from your seat. Once when I was in downtown Seattle and looking out the window of a bus, I watched an entire tree branch just fall and smash a car about 20 feet away. Nobody was hurt, but it was such an unusual site that I looked around the bus to see the reactions of the other riders, and nobody else noticed because they were too busy on their phones.
Try making observations. Look for buildings or landmarks you haven’t noticed before. Check out the variety of people or the ever-changing sky or the eagles that live off Highway 520. Play alphabet games to keep yourself entertained and give your eyes a break. See what’s out there.
As someone who previously worked at a deli, I can’t even count how many people would not notice me trying to help them because they were too engrossed in their phones, or they blurted out their orders without looking up. Instances like that demonstrate that we are starting to deprive ourselves of common courtesy in social interactions.
Be there. Be present. Notice the customer service person who is trying to help you. I’m not going to tell you to smile; just try acknowledging them as human because the device in your hand is not.
FRIENDS AND FAMILY
At home, our attentions and priorities have become skewed. Mealtime used to be about family or friends gathering around a table and enjoying conversation and casual eye contact. Now, we are lucky to have time in our days to share an uninterrupted meal. Even watching TV shows and having our attention on one screen is not enough; we must constantly check our phones for anything new. Games have turned from Life and Monopoly to Candy Crush and Farmville.
Some families and individuals resort to lock boxes or, ironically, apps to ensure that they will not have the distraction of phones during certain times. Try having date nights. Or game nights with actual board or card games that you can touch. My friends and I love game night and bingo, and you can get so engrossed in the fun and competition that you may even forget about social media for a minute. Any kind of phone-free zone or meals with designated times without devices (it’s not just phones!) is another great way to reconnect with your loved ones.
GO PLAY OUTSIDE!
Growing up in the ‘80s and ‘90s, I remember hearing “go play outside!” if I was watching tv or playing Lemmings on my family’s shared Windows 95 computer. It wasn’t hard at the time to escape the digital world; I could easily take my dogs for a walk around the neighborhood trails or call my friend and hoof it to the store a mile away to buy candy without panicking that I forgot my phone at home. We would talk, look around, make observations, and keep an eye on cars while we crossed the streets. Oh, and of course, get a little exercise.
But now things are different, and as hard as I try, I am not without guilt as my phone is a regular part of my walks. Sure, I still leash up my dogs and walk to the shopping center by my house, but that little black rectangle is always a split second away from being in my hand and never far from my mind.
Be intentional about stepping away from screens. I once had an assignment in school where, for a week, we were required to sit outside for half an hour, away from as many distractions and people as possible, and just be. Then we were to write what we had observed during these times. That was before cellphones were in everyone’s back pocket, and I can imagine that such an exercise would benefit anyone at any age.
Set aside any allotted amount of time, even 15 minutes at first if this is difficult, and turn off your phone. Or leave it in your house and go outside. Or if that is too much and you want to have a way to call in case of an emergency, keep it with you, and put it on airplane mode. Relearn what it is like to be present. Do you have a smart watch that alerts every time you get an email? Turn that feature off or take off the watch for the allotted time. The email will be there when you get back. I promise.
Do something that inhibits you from using your phone in the moment. Go for a swim or a bike ride. Learn to knit. Lift weights. Learn an instrument. Go camping, maybe even somewhere with spotty cell reception, but of course, stay safe. Hand write letters to a pen pal – they can even be a neighbor. Give a shelter dog a break from the kennels and take them on an adventure! Open your mind. Feel the world. Get creative.
TECH IS NECESSARY! BUT SO IS BALANCE
All of this being said, I’m not anti-technology. I don’t live in a cabin in the woods completely devoid of electricity. And if I didn’t have my streaming shows or Instagram, I’d survive but I would miss them. Also, if it weren’t for the need for sharing information over various platforms, I’d be out of a job. So I am grateful for technology.
Search engines and social media and cat websites aren’t going anywhere, and that is just fine because even in the process of writing this sentence, I went to the previously linked cat website, fell into a rabbit hole, followed a link to Twitter, took a screen shot and messaged a picture to someone on Facebook, and while I was there, posted an update, checked my other messages and updates, then went back to that first website, and finally out and back to Google and then to this sentence. (Phew!) We all need our distractions from the real world. We also need to be able to double-check and validate articles, make sure we aren’t dying, and learn how to write a thesis for super fun blogs like this one.
But don’t forget to be human. Look up once in a while, breathe, notice the textures on the leaves, feel the earth, and make eye contact occasionally. It’s a beautiful world out there. Make sure you are a physical part of it too.