Detoxing from the Screen
I hide myself within my flower,
That fading from your vase,
You unsuspecting feel for me
Almost a loneliness.
The noise becomes loud enough to cause my head to hurt. My heart aches. And then my eyes get blurry. This is my natural reaction to screen time, when I read something, when I spend too much time hovering over clicks and tabs.
For a while, my mother was telling me to put away my device. To leave it out of sight when I am at the table with her. Convicting thoughts.
I remember in college, I would plug into my headset Walkman (yes, those were the devices then) and one of my classmates appeared to my face to ask me a question. The music in my ears was loud enough to block out his voice, and so once I turned down the volume with the rotary knob, he said, Please take off your anti-social device.
I’ll never forget that rebuke, and well, now the anti-social devices – an oxymoron at best, figuratively – have full control of our lives. We are tethered to those very gripping entities of technology, a hypnosis that keeps us engaged, this new stronghold of the age.
It’s no surprise that it’s entered not only the physical culture or family fellowship, but it’s also infiltrated the aesthetics of photography. I tweeted once that why on earth is there nothing but people being photographed with their mobile devices on stock photo sites. As I am looking for stock images, free photos for my blog, I come to find a plethora of photos with laptops, people looking at their devices, people disconnected from the next human at arms length.
We become victims, don’t we, of these pushers, these guests into our lives that overstay their welcome, these anchors that keep our fingers active, gingerly pushing virtual buttons of like and share before any captured memory becomes a frame in time, dismissed into oblivion.
We engage, touch, look, giggle, grimace, even, and then it’s over. The time has passed. And then we wonder, why we stifle our longing for fluid conversation which organically transpires only between ourselves and someone else.
And then we wonder why we stifle the longing we carry for fluid conversation.
The Bible says in Philippians 1 verse 27:
Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel;
This passage is convicting. All too often, I’ve discovered, that so much time is lost by the stirring up of contention between other believers in the faith instead of uniting against the opposition. On social media, our screens can become hazy, our vision can be obscured.
I took a long walk with my three children in tow the other day. We completed our chores that morning, ate breakfast, and were off to take a walk through a neighborhood we’d never seen.
We took the back roads to avoid busy boulevards that fill me with fright – my littlest may see a playful pet on the street and run after it without looking both ways!
We came across this treasure trove of literature. Onward we went, having collected three pencils (of all things!) and discovered a few men laboring over their work, mowing lawns, trimming hedges, nailing together pieces of lumber to build a home for someone paying top dollar. We looked at mysterious gardens with curiosity, my eldest reminding my other son to stay off the yards of those who live here. There was no sidewalk on our route, so we stopped only to huddle whenever a car would pass by us. Then we’d decompress, loosening our shoulders, proceeding to delight ourselves with the beauty of God’s layered blossoms.
“Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” Luke 12:27
That day outdoors spawned a new curiosity for us because we were able to see our neighboring areas up close. It wasn’t through a screen, but through the lens of our bare eyes, without the preoccupation of anything pressuring us to move quickly. We looked fondly on our day out of doors and recalled how much we take for granted. Even though our landscape is saturated with urban noise, we can stroll through a few pockets from time to time where the silence is only interrupted by a few falling leaves, or a twig breaking in our wake, or even a few words quietly drawing our attention.
Even my daughter’s body language is figurative, commanding what nature calls us to do: look, listen, and recognize what we have that in no other time we can see and experience but for now.
Untether yourself from your device. Go smell a rose.
Everyone seems to be looking at their phone when they walk outside, when they wait in the car, when they can’t find words to say to the person next to them. Anything you need is right here, says the mobile device. Where is the room for novel thoughts, for thoughtful ideas? Where’s creativity?
I was listening to a radio podcast and learned that there are actual retreats for adults, like summer camps for children, but these retreats are focused on digital detoxing. Don’t misunderstand, these retreats are not meant for individuals to disconnect and escape, but they are rather meant to be a place where people can connect with each other and find things that they never thought they could do, like learn an instrument or cook bread. Now that is a novel idea, at least nowadays. What’s amazing even in these cases of retreating for a digital detox is that participants are so addicted to their life in the digital world that they feel the need to ask for permission to be off-the-grid for a while.
In a time when the phone takes us anywhere we want to go by leaving reality to tear through the veil of artifice and into a shared world where everyone seems to be a focal point of attention, I think of what my children will inherit one day. What will they do, or say? Will they say, “Thanks for choosing humanity, in lieu of devices. Thanks for the eye contact, for touch, for talking with me instead of with a digital profile of myself.”
The average person spends about 11 hours onscreen. I think about why people define themselves by what they do, instead of by what they love, or what they do for fun? When we’re asked what our hobbies are, sometimes we don’t know. Our hobbies are paper thin. We’re asked what we do for a living and it’s easy to answer as that is how we are defined, that is how we are boxed and packaged. This is how we are manufactured. Our occupation is what consumes our day. What occupies our time, is the question.
Maybe it’s time we stopped talking about our occupation with other adults. Children certainly don’t talk about what occupies their time most of the day (homeschool, etc). I’ve overheard my children talk to other children and their topics of discussion revolve around their hobbies, the new things they’ve discovered when they went to play at the park, the things they get to do outside of what occupies their time most of the day. Children don’t need introductions other than to get familiar with each other for some time until they discover what it is that connects them with each other.
So we can get rid of push notifications on our devices, once and for all. After all, aren’t we the master and not the slave to our media?