Realizing I might have a slight addiction to my iPhone, I somewhat reluctantly (okay, VERY reluctantly) joined thousands around the country for National Screen Free Week in early May. To say it was a life-changing experiment would be an understatement.
Here’s what I learned and why I won’t go back to my old habits:
First things first, I survived!
I was apprehensive about this. A week with no laptop, no iPad, no TV, no phone (except for speaking and minimal texting). That also meant no Facebook, no Twitter, no Instagram, no Word, and no Email. But I did it! And it was easier than I thought. I had a few twitches my first day, a few automatic phone draws while waiting in line, or sitting on the park bench. But after that first day, I actually enjoyed the time away.
Email is SO unimportant.
Here’s some interesting data: When I returned to my inbox, I had 189 unread messages, I ruthlessly deleted 102 messages without even glancing at their content. I immediately unsubscribed from 26 daily/weekly emails that I don’t actually ever read, and certainly don’t need clogging my inbox. Of the remaining messages, I was only interested in reading around 50 of them, and of those, I only needed to actually respond to 3 of them. That’s right folks, of the 189 messages I received last week, only THREE messages required any kind of response from me. My lesson: I can almost do without email. Or at least, I can keep to checking it until the end of the day, if I bother at all, instead of obsessively every hour.
I did not miss Facebook.
This was my biggest fear. I worried I’d miss out on friends’ lives, their pictures and status updates. I worried I’d get left out of a playdate, or miss a chance to respond to a post on my wall. I worried I’d miss the article that FINALLY told me how to handle toddler meltdowns the right way, or forget a birthday wish or two. I wondered if I’d be lost at the school pick up when all the other moms were in on the most recent PTO post, or inside scoop only found on the newsfeed. But you know what? Nope. Didn’t miss it. Not at all.
Life slowed down.
Seriously, this one might be the best. Days felt a little longer, I didn’t feel like I should be doing something else all the time. Especially when I was with my kids. Our time together was more fun because I was completely present. I wasn’t holding my phone, or itching to check it every few minutes to see if anything new had arrived since the last check. There was less yelling, fewer tantrums, more laughter, and I think I was able to stave off more of the sibling squabbles that had become commonplace in the witching hours of the late afternoon.
I got more done.
Not surprisingly, giving up screen time in the most productive hours of the day meant that I had so much more time to do the things I’ve been meaning to do. I read books, hatched a business plan, dreamt up an idea for a novel, hand-wrote a few letters and called friends I’d not connected with in months. Talk about productive!
Nothing felt quite as urgent.
Urgency used to look like the red dots that casually hung on the corner of nearly every app on my phone tempting me to sneak a peek when I had the time. And whether I had it, I always made the time. But just as in meditation, this week I simply noticed them (if I looked at all). I see you there red dots, I’d say in my head. In noticing them, they lost their power over me. And voilà, the urgency passed.
I can control my kids’ screen time (for now), but not my husband’s.
I was pretty adamant that he join this screen-free week with me. In fact, I’d go so far as to say I was doing this because I thought his ‘problem’ with the screen was equal to, if not worse, than mine. (even though he is hardly ever on his phone when he’s with the kids and isn’t really into social media). I’d get frustrated with him when he’d be on his phone and watching TV, or reading the news on his phone (‘Would it be different if I brought the New York Times to bed instead?’ he’d ask. ‘YES. YES it would,’ I’d reply, not really having a solid argument as to why). But I realized that it was really my problem with my own screen addiction that I was projecting onto him. I assumed he was ‘using’ in the same way I was. And once I realized the problem was mine and mine alone, I understood that the way he uses his screens is entirely up to him. (Unless we’re at the dinner table, of course).
The phone is not the enemy.
Several times throughout the week, I thought about how useful my phone could be when I simply used it as a tool. It’s a calculator, a credit card, a reservation assistant, a camera, a radio, a library card, a cup of coffee. There are a lot of ways that my phone (or any screen) makes my life easier. At one point I couldn’t remember the water-to-couscous ratio and it took me almost five minutes to find it in a cookbook when Chef Google could have told me in an instant. I don’t want to give up or demonize that kind of use. Those aspects save me time. But now I have a much clearer idea of which applications steal my hours. And I’ll be guarding that precious time with my life now. That IS my life.
It would be nearly impossible to go screen-free forever. That was never the point of this experiment, though I have to admit I was reluctant to return to my computer when the week had ended. I’m doing my best to hang on to these lessons and prioritize my time in front of a screen.