06 May 2014

Screen Time

I'd like to preface this post with two items.

1. I'm writing this on Monday and will schedule it to post on Tuesday. So if this appears while I'm in labor (I hope, I hope!), I didn't write it between contractions.

2. I wrote it during naptime (that point will make sense later)

There is a video blowing up my Facebook feed you may have seen called Look Up. It's nothing brilliantly insightful - a bunch of things everyone already knows and does nothing about.

But it's something we all need to hear. I've been mulling over a post topic in my head for the last week or so when this video started popping up and I thought it tied in perfectly with my post.

I have a confession to make: I spend a lot of time online.

The reason this is a confession is because if you walked through my apartment, you'd never know. Therapists say all the time to me, "Oh, I just noticed you don't have a tv - that's wonderful! I wish my family watched tv less, but my husband/kids/etc would never stand for it if I got rid of the television!"

There is no television in my apartment. No xbox or Wii. Neither my husband nor I own a smart phone. Nobody owns a tablet or e-reader. We do have an iPod shuffle (they don't have screens) and we each have a laptop with a dying battery (so we have to keep them near outlets). But neither of us have Twitters or Instagrams. We don't subscribe to Amazon Prime or Hulu Plus or Netflix. We have Facebook, I have a blog, he has a Linked In. Our DVD collection (not including fitness DVDs) takes up the equivalent of one bookshelf. We look like an ideal candidate for a family who is rarely staring at a screen.

But the truth is, we spend a lot of time staring at a screen. Tons. I hate it and I'm a big part of the problem. Between what's free on Hulu, Youtube, and the occasional trip to Redbox, we easily spend hours a day watching tv on the computer. Plus the time spent reading "32 Genius Camping Hacks" or "this bill passed that will make your life look like 1984" articles. Then there's the blog roll, the news sources, the email inbox. Matt and I call it the Internet Black Hole: you sit down to check the weather and get up an hour and a half later. I'll put Abigail down for a nap and pick up the computer and suddenly she's awake again. Two hours later, but it feels like just a few minutes. That's the Internet Black Hole.

You might think, "well, if you're only on it during naptime or after Abigail falls asleep, how bad can it be?" Well that's still four hours of time wasted online. And it's not just when she's sleeping.

An embarrassingly large number of times per day, I'm online while Abigail's having breakfast or lunch or playing with her toys. Or clinging to my leg desperate for my attention. Inside I start to feel guilty, but instead I usually push her away and say impatiently, "Just give me one minute of peace to finish this!"

At 1:50, the narrator says, "We're surrounded by children / who since they were born / have watched us living like robots / and think it's the norm." And it is depressingly true to see in my young daughter. You've surely seen it in your own children: the ability to manipulate the touch screen by the time they can isolate their own finger movements. The enraptured stare at the computer. The risking of life and limb to snatch an unwatched phone from the edge of the table.

Around 2:30, the video starts getting sappy enough to make a pregnant woman tear up. I particularly like the line at 2:51: "The time you don't have to tell hundreds of what you've just done / because you want to share this moment with just this one." Like when Abigail comes over and gives me a hug, leaves her head on my shoulder and looks up at me with her blue eyes. Part of me wants to take a pictures, post it online, see the flood of "likes" at her white-speckled eyes. But more of me doesn't want to move because the interaction fills me with such joy that I don't want to move and end it.

4:36 "Disconnect from the need to be heard and defined / go out into the world, leave distractions behind." On days when I have enough willpower to abstain from the computer, or at least regulate my time on it, I find that I am calmer and more patient with Abigail. My temper is better with everyone in fact. I'm more focused on tasks at hand and my head feels clearer. The house is cleaner faster and we're outside more. On days when I read during naptime instead of watching past episodes of Dr. Phil, I'm happier all day. Less irritable. Less stressed. Almost like when I'm on vacation, I feel like time slows down and I feel more connected to me.

I spend too many evenings sitting next to Matt while we both stare at our own computers. I spend too many days pushing Abigail aside so I can "just do one more thing." I get too mad too often at a page that won't load.

Life without Internet is not feasible in today's world and I don't think complete abstinence in the home is the best way to give my kids life skills, but I do want to have balance in my own life and pass that self control onto my children.

I don't know exactly how to start. I know that past resolutions (I'll only spend one hour online per day. I will only check Facebook one per day) have completely and utterly failed. But I need to figure out something cause what I'm doing now is not working for me.

What successful tips do you have to slow down Internet usage?

4:14: "Don't waste your life getting caught in the net / as when the end comes, nothing's worse than regret."


Amelia Bentrup said...

We are like you in that we don't have smart phones or TV. But, we do each have a laptop (and the kids have one they all share) and we are all one them quite a bit.

I think it's important ot distinguish differnt types of online time. I consider writing or bloggint to be just as viable a use of time as other hobbies like reading or knitting or painting.

I consider reading news stories to be no different really than reading hte newpaper.

Otherthings like Facebook or message boards or games or whatever can be total time wasters.

What I've done to try to limit the time suck is to eliminate certain online activites. There was a certain message board I used to frequent that I haven't visited in over a year, because I decided it was not beneficial for me to be there. I don't spent a lot of time on pinterest or twitter. I limit the number of blogs I follow. I also have to limit the amount of time I spend reading up on health and reading health releated blogs or articles because those make me anxious and just aren't beneficial to me.

My kids use the computer, but they are limited to only useing it for schoolwork, blogging (they have their own blogs which are set to private so only a few family members or friends can read them), or playing/studying chess.

Anonymous said...

We also have no tv. When we watch movies it's a family event or a date night and honestly, it's either a religious flick or LOTR or Star Wars. Ok, we both a have a weakness for Jane Austen too, but movies get watched by us MAYBE twice a month.

Internetwise, I have a smartphone, but we don't have a computer in the house, and I want to keep it that way because of the black hole nature of it and my kids' utter fascination with anything computer related.

We've simply explained to them that in our house, computers are used as tools for getting work done or finding information, or occasional family movie time. My husband laments too many hours of his life wasted playing video games, I grew up without them, and I always think that there are real-life activities that my children should engage in over and above sitting in front of a screen, being passively entertained. The passivity of computer game/Internet use concerns me, ESP regarding you g children, and this concern goes for movies too.

SO MUCH goes in, gets soaked up, IS retained, without first being critically analyzed and/or considered, and then is left there to be processed at some point or to leave an unconscious impression that we as parents wouldn't even be aware of.

We recently encountered a similar discussion with grandparents when they asked, "if you'll READ Lady and the Tramp to your kids, why can't they watch the movie?"

Quite simply, because if we read it to them, they can stop and ask questions, or we can put new concepts or actions into an age-appropriate, rational context, and engage in a discussion about the action of the story while it unfolds, instead of letting it all go in without discrimination, and then helping them process ideas over the course of days as they talk about the movie, etc.

That's our take on it, anyway. Oddly, Mario and I always feel uncomfortable if we end up in the same room, staring at our iPhones. But if we're sitting on the couch reading different books, that can go on for hours without one of us tossing the phone and recognizing that "this is ridiculous!" I think the reason is because when you make the decision to read a book, you're consciously deciding to put in some effort to read, understand, re-read if necessary, and retain what you've chosen, rather than flitting from one blog to another or one news piece to another with a tap of your finger. I would venture further to say that when you choose to read a book over browsing the web, you're much likelier to choose something of a more noble content...something truly educational or spiritually enlightening.

Personally, I'm limited to three blogs (can you guess which three :-) and checking the news on NewAdvent.com.

And Internet only when the boys are sleeping. Never at the dinner table, for anyone.

When I saw my boys' activities and behavior toward me change during "Internet time," I knew I had to let it go, and reserve it for when they are not around. I do t want then to become phone-nosers someday, so I figure I have to set a good example.

Sorry for rambling. I'm certainly not advocating for "my way or the highway," just sharing what we do and why. TB

Anonymous said...

Also, I do believe that the human mind, ESP during childhood, can become lazy and miss important steps in developing critical thinking skills (or developing the will to think at all) through too much passive computer/tv/movie time (I guess "screen time" would cover that).

That's not to say that all time ever spent by a child looking at a screen is detrimental to his development, but in our culture, kids are being "dumbed down" by too much screen time at home and in school, such that many teachers are witnessing the inability of their students to pay attention for ANY length of time and the inability to think critically on their own, and these struggles appearing astronomically among the current generation, and not based entirely in childhood/teenage apathy.

If you look at the difference between what the ancient Greeks considered "entertainment" (their "plays" were a series of LONG speeches, after all, with most of the action occurring "ob-skeine," or off scene, and you consider how men in the Middle Ages learned their rhetoric and philosophy by listening to Aquinian pro et contra arguments for HOURS on end, our current generation's capacity fore ngaging our minds in serious thought and our aptitude for educational achievement appears an utter joke!

I know we live in a different age and face different challenges and enjoy different "life improvements," but I don't believe our actual human capacity for such levels of intellectual greatness have been abolished. I believe they are untapped or diminished BECAUSE of the age of technology in which we live. And I want my kids to be in conversation with the Ancients of Antiquity, rather than leaving them behind in the dust, because our Western culture, civilization, and Catholic culture sprang from them and SHOULD continue to engage, inspire, and transform our lives.

I'll put my soapbox away now. Thanks for giving me a reason to pull it out.

;-) TB, again.

Anonymous said...

I sincerely hope I'm not being a troll, but I just found this, which I think you will really appreciate: http://catholicexchange.com/break-box-technology-prayer

:-). TB

Jacqueline said...

You are certainly not being a troll! I read that article and thought it was really interesting - I actually read "The Shallows" while I was in a book club in Florida and I had completely forgotten all about it. You and Amelia both seem really good at self-regulating your Internet usage. I am not so good and definitely need to practice more!