Let’s talk about screens

I am, ashamedly, addicted to technology. Here’s my confession:

I spend my 90% of my workday on the computer.

I go home and work on homework or check email or check facebook or play candy crush on the computer (and/or on my iPhone). I watch TV (or TV shows on my computer). Sometimes, I even double up on screens: I’ll watch TV AND play Candy Crush. I am addicted to the busyness and excitement of getting new messages, of seeing new feeds, and keep my mind constantly jumping from task to task.

And on a usual day, I lie in bed at night with my “browser windows” of life open in my mind. Just like the physical browser on my computer, my mind is working at 15 things at once. It’s hard to settle down. It’s exhausting.

Yesterday, I clicked on a random TED talk that ended up being related to this idea. It was about stillness. Travel Writer Pico Iyer talks about the importance of stillness and of “going nowhere.” He talks about how workers today are working fewer days than our predecessors but feel like they’re working more. We are lacking stillness. Our work lives and our home lives are missing stillness, and so we just keep going, going, going.

I am struck by how few of the “activities” that I do on the computer, especially in the evening after work, are meaningful, productive, or active. We thank technology for making us more productive, for giving us more capacity, for allowing us to get more done. But far too often, I find that my screens are a barrier to my productivity, and really to my overall well-being. I do appreciate that I have both the physical time and the technological capacity to decompress with a few episodes of a chosen TV show. I appreciate the way that Facebook keeps me connected to people whose lives I might otherwise miss. I appreciate the opportunity to share my thoughts on a blog like this. And I’m appreciative of the access to information I have — thank you Google.

But technology does not have any inherent limits or ethical boundaries. Technology can be dangerous. Technology wants to be used. Technology is an addiction. Overuse of technology leads to eye strain, arthritis, and depression. Technology can control.

So let’s instead control technology. It is only by our own choice that we can set our own personal limits on how we allow technology to influence our lives. This may look like:

  • Turning off screens two hours before bed.
  • Using an old-fashioned alarm clock and 100% powering down your phone.
  • Limiting your “screen time.” Before you turn on Netflix, decide how many episodes you will watch today. Don’t wait to decide that until the cliffhanger at the end of the next episode.
  • Don’t keep your e-mail open constantly, but rather check it periodically. Especially at work, the “ping” of a new email can be a major distraction and reducer of productivity. Check for new messages when you actually have a good few minutes to respond to messages accordingly.

What other strategies do you use to keep your technology use in balance?