Monday, July 25, 2016

Screen-free days: Nostalgia time again

Lately I've been reminiscing longingly on something I used to do when my children were littler and I was working a lot less hours, and that was to have one (or sometimes two) completely screen-free days a week. No TV, no computers ... it was before tablets were A Thing and before I had a smartphone, so while I didn't switch my mobile off, it was just a call-making and taking device.

It worked so well when the older two kids were preschoolers to rule off one (sometimes two) days a week where we just didn't interact with screens at all. Those days were calming, centreing. They could be quite tiring, as having no fallback to afternoon ABC Kids meant organising more in terms of stuff to do than was typical; but they were good days, slow-molasses days, for me as well as the kids. They cleared my head and slowed me down.

I thought, briefly, about whether I could reinstitute a screen-free day now, and I've reluctantly concluded that I can't. We certainly have plenty of TV-free days - more than not, in fact - but the older kids, husband and I all use our computers, laptops and smartphones daily for both work / schoolwork and social contact in a way that is much more ubiquitous than it was 9-10 years ago.

The reality of my working life as a freelancer, moreover, means that while I can and do have days at weekends or on holidays when I do not switch on the computer / laptop or do any substantive work, I can't ever (including at weekends) be completely unreachable for more than 24 hours in a row. Of course if I am sick or otherwise occupied, I might simply respond by saying so, but to not respond at all would be unprofessional and not helpful to my cause when it comes to getting further projects.

Because of email and Messenger on my smartphone, I am never fully unplugged. I can queue email up for response - in fact, on my document days working at home now, I only check and respond to email between 9-10am and 4-5pm, otherwise muting it, so I can concentrate on the documents I am writing. What I can't do is ignore it altogether, ever, and that means effectively no screen-free days are possible.

My parents, who are retirees, tell me they often have days without screens. Days of reading books and walking and lunching with friends, doing creative projects and cooking and shopping and oing for a drive in the mountains. Partly, of course, this is a disposable time issue, but partly it is being free of the burden of contactability that allows them to be screen-free. I envy that freedom, some days.

I want to make more of an effort to minimise my screen time where I do have discretion to do so over the next few months. Part of this is just re-learning the art of switching off immediately my work day is done, rather than leaving the computer on for aimless social media puddling around (which happens far too often, and it doesn't make me happier or more relaxed in the way that a game with the kids, reading a good book or even baking something does). Part of it is learning to compartmentalise and triage even my work use of screens more effectively (ie my new, and very useful, email-checking-zone policy, which has made me much more productive on my working at home days).

And part of it is just remembering to stop, look up, breathe. Remembering to hang with the world of sense and substance, not just the world of ideas and ether.

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