Hi. My name is Katy and I’m addicted to my computer. And I don't think I'm the only one. Raise your hand if you think you might have a problem too.
May 5th through May 11th is Screen-Free Week: "The international celebration where children, families, schools, and communities spend seven days turning OFF digital entertainment* and turning ON life! It’s a time to unplug and play, read, daydream, create, explore nature, and spend time with family and friends."
*work and school assignments not included
Screen time is described as time spent viewing of television or videos, computer, electronic games, hand-held devices or other visual devices. Typically screen time is viewed negatively because of what's on the screen. I don't "know" anything about the impact of content on human development and biological function, but you can find a lot online about it.
As a biomechanist, I'm not as concerned with what's on the screen, but the screen itself -- our physical relationship with the screen. The geometries created (or not) when viewing, the metabolic issues created by stillness, the response of the skeletal and smooth muscles to the viewing environment, and then there are all the invisible loads created by the viewing distance, screen light, volume, etc. <--- This is all in my next book, yo.
Screen time is super-important to pay attention to as the frequency with which you partake in your technology has been isolated as a risk factor for diseases in both children and adults. It turns out that the input of info from your device doesn't only affect your mind, it affects the shape of your body as well.
It's this culture's habit to approaching "junk-food" behaviors with a mindset that they can be balanced with some "super-awesome" behaviors. But while this might seem logical on paper, it's not the way it works out in the body.
Extra cardio doesn't balance out lung damage created by smoking, "Kegeling" doesn't balance a chronically under or mis-used pelvis, and a daily exercise session doesn't undo hours of being sedentary. The days of balancing out “junk-food” behavior with “whole-food” behavior have to be put behind us. Physiology doesn’t work like that. The body doesn’t respond differently to candy bars because you follow them up with brussel sprouts. It responds to the candy, then it responds to the vegetable. One doesn’t negate to the other. And the same goes for technology. You can’t eat well or move well out of the physical damage that technology creates. Rather than trying to offset technology, look for places where it can be reduced.
I, for one, LOVE my computer. Make no mistake, this post isn’t being written by someone who doesn’t have a tremendous “on-line” addiction, but by someone who is well aware of her own problem. Like many of you, I use my computer for work, but I also use my computer way more for non-work, even during “work time.” My husband and my working-adult status means that we are unable to avoid the computer for an entire week, but we acknowledge that the problem isn’t during this work time but all the other mindless minutes looking at a screen. So, this is how we are going screen-free week:
1. We can use our smart phones as phones. No internet surfing, movie watching, game playing (him), Twittering (me), or deleting emails and texting this: asiiiiiiiiiiiiiiioowe9 **&(^% to people in my address book (kids).
2. Going off of Facebook. Just so you know, my professional Facebook page is where I spend a lot of time for work. But, I feel that taking a week off of posting bits on how to be healthy by stepping away from your computer is totally trumped by me actually taking a week away from the computer for better health. In short, it’s a totally savvy business move to lead by example. All of you with health/movement/exercise Facebook pages, consider doing the same.
In addition to this blog post, here’s what I’ll be posting the week that I am away:
3. Go tech-silent. We listen to a lot of podcasts/audio-type things and we’re going to take a break from these as well. For us, screen-time is not only about the sitting, but about the input. I listen to books while walking, but I’d be fooling myself if I didn’t recognize the addictive nature to constant input. Walking, or driving, or just being in silence is freaking hard. I can justify my audio-input with “but I’m walking!” but I’d be missing the point. I’m addicted to my device and the inability to be without it is encroaching on every aspect of my life.
4. No movies or TV. We don’t watch regular TV at our house, although we do have Netflix and can watch "commercial-free" TV shows if we want. If your family is used to regular TV, the distance between a lot of TV and NO TV could be extreme, especially for kids. To dampen the blow, I suggest subscribing to audio stories. Sparkle Stories are our family’s favorite and a great way to change a single variable -- releasing the eyes from processing all that visual input. They also had a great blog post called Imagination: Seeing Through the Eyes on how one's mental responses to challenging situations can be colored by what one has watched in media.
There’s no wrong way to do a Screen-Free week. Maybe you’re not ready to break up with Facebook for an entire week, but how about setting a daily time limit? Maybe for you it's not about going without. Perhaps you're on the becoming aware of the problem step.
I was reading Far From the Tree when I stumbled on a sentence with this gist: People want to get better, but they don’t want to change. But, I think that people actually do want to change, it's just that the scope of the problem is so huge, it encompasses...everything. This week, let it be simple. All you have to do is become aware of is your screen time. Whether you want to change it or not, identifying, quantifying, and qualifying the role of "the screen" in your life is a beneficial thing.
I'll see you next week.
P.S. If you're reading this on Monday or Tuesday and are all like, "Dang! I wish I read this last week so I could participate, but I missed it, so now I can't," please note that "Screen-Free Week" begins and ends when you say so. Do it for a week in November. Do it for three days in June. Do it for 12 hours on a Friday. But please, do something. It's time.