This week, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about “screen time.” Doctors and life coaches tell us to limit the amount of time we spend examining our computer monitors, smartphone screens, televisions, tablets and other backlit devices.
For one thing, they say, too much of that kind of visual stimulation interferes with our sleep patterns, in some kind of measurable, chemical way. So as an armchair insomniac, I make a real effort to walk away from my screens a good hour or more before bedtime. Sometimes, I swear I can feel the smoking, overheated neurons settling down in my brain. It feels like pulling the plug on the popcorn machine and pouring myself some virtual chamomile tea instead, with milk and honey.
But it’s also just common sense that every minute we spend communing with our devices is a minute we don’t spend in personal contact with important friends and beloved family members. It’s a minute we don’t spend in the fresh air at the beach or in the sweaty aroma of the gym. It’s time away from observing the real world all around us, chatting up a stranger, playing with the dog, reading to our grandchildren or just thinking our own quiet thoughts. For all the many benefits of social media and digital technology, I believe in the deep importance of stepping away from our screens, often, to re-connect with the real world all around us.
But, at least for me, that is much more easily said than done. I spend the bulk of my workday tuned in to my computer, checking and sending emails, researching and writing my stories, responding to internal messages from within the BDN newsroom, watching to see how many people are reading my stories on line, keeping tabs on Facebook, Twitter and other social media channels and in general filling up my brain with more and more and more information.
When I get home, the temptation is great to relax on Facebook with my friends and catch up on personal and business email correspondence. Because I rarely have time to shop, and really can’t stand it anyway, I often spend time in the evenings browsing on line for items I want and need. With a click, they’re purchased and scheduled for delivery to my door.
Just this week, I ordered a replacement for the fancy black shoulder bag I bought 10 years ago at Goodwill, a new hose for my 20-year-old vacuum cleaner, a soft-sided kennel for our new pup and two bottles of my favorite hand cream, all from the quiet comfort of my home office.
I did manage to get in some nice walks in the neighborhood, too, and to take care of some chores at home, but my point is that it’s way too easy to spend way too much time in the thrall of our devices and not enough time in the embrace of the real world.
Apparently, even going out to dinner is no sure escape. Earlier this week, I stopped to grab supper at a local chain restaurant and found myself in the chatty company of a small, table-top device. Non-stop, it encouraged me to order more food and drink and to play trivia and other games. At the end of my meal, I was instructed to swipe my debit card through the infernal contraption and pay right then and there, no pesky waiting for my bill to be processed and brought back with a smile for my signature and a tip. It’s true I could have asked my very attentive server to remove the gadget from my table, but I have to admit I was kind of entranced. Instead, I ordered another glass of wine and took some pictures of it.
Also this week, I took my 2010 Subaru Forester to the dealer for a factory recall repair and was issued a 2017 Crosstrek for the day. What’s more fun than tooling around town in a brand new car? Before I left the service lot, the associate alerted me to the presence of a back-up camera on the car.
“Every time you put it in reverse,” he explained, leaning in the driver-side window, “the camera comes on and shows you what’s behind you.” The image projected on a small screen embedded in the dashboard, eliminating the need to twist around and look over my shoulder when I backed up. He could tell this was a real gee-whiz moment for me.
Although it’s yet another screen invading my life, I know it would be easy to get used to this safety feature. I suspect that by the time I’m ready to replace my Forester five years from now, these handy back-up cameras will be standard equipment. Maybe they already are — what do I know? Maybe I’ll take a minute right now and Google it.