We are living in a society free from boredom, where there is always something on hand to distract us; on a solo bus-ride or during an awkward wait in a busy pub. We may even use our phones as a discreet way to avoid social contact if we are that way inclined. Technology gives us so much and there is no doubt that we are a richer society in many ways because of it. While we have been provided so many exciting possibilities, other taken-for-granted areas may now lie neglected. Perhaps in this connected world, you actually feel more disconnected from people than ever before and can’t put your finger on how this has come about. Are you feeling overwhelmed with responsibilities, feeling like you will never have any time for yourself. Struggling to cope, isolated, unmotivated, unhappy, lost and relying on the television, Internet, and social media to make yourself feel better? If so, cutting down on your screen-time may benefit you, and can help you embrace the areas in your life that are truly missing.
I am one of these struggling people, and I am addicted to technology. The News, Facebook, magazines, advertising, Netflix and mobile phones have permeated my very soul. Being a highly sensitive person, I am rocked daily by upsetting news or images, feel personally offended by strangers’ comments on forum threads that peaked my interest, and I am increasingly drawn to Candy Crush or Instagram to while away the minutes of the day, or escape from my seemingly overwhelming daily responsibilities. It has reached the point where I have lost myself, unable to push out of my comfort zone and move forward without retreating to that trusty escape mechanism in my pocket, or getting my Netflix fix on; anything to avoid what really matters. Now I am dealing with a fatigue cycle that is greatly limiting my daily activities, and I have realised that while I was enjoying using screen-time as a relaxation tool, technology’s insidious effects have been sapping my energy and my time away. I have had enough, and have made the decision to break this pattern.
I am a thirty-six year old woman, mother of three wonderful children and part of a generation that grew up going without. Now I wish that my children were going without too! Going without the convenience of google in our pockets, without GPS on hand and without social media like Facebook. As a child, I had plenty of imagination and plenty to do. Boredom wasn’t something to fear, but it was a catalyst for invention. Today though, I frequently find myself turning the TV on to rescue my bored children and I often forget to turn it off again. Before the time of text, email and messenger, we would venture outside to knock on friends doors, or phone them using a landline telephone. Perhaps it is more convenient today, but what has texting and group messaging taken away from us? We are undoubtedly moving forward with all of this technology, but is it really to a destination we want? What have the insidious effects of new technology really cost some of us as individuals in this increasingly isolated society?
From early childhood I enjoyed the constantly updating and wonderful new technologies. The transition from cassette tape to CD, the fun but addictive power of Nintendo and the addition of new, fun TV channels like MTV, The Box or Nickelodeon. There was still plenty of room for social connection though, and many joyful, or perhaps even argumentative rainy afternoons would be spent with my younger brother playing Super Mario Kart, or later on at the age of fourteen, crowded onto a single bed in a box room with friends as we raced on Micro Machines or battled with Mortal Kombat. For me, this is where it all began to go downhill. The popularity of video games continued, and faster broadband speeds took away the frustration of that unmistakable screech of dial-up connection. MSN messenger allowed me to keep in contact with friends during the lulls of my day-job, in addition to a lively social life, phone calls and emails.
But, in the early noughties, as a young mother of nineteen I saw the computer, Internet and solo games like The Sims as my chance to have some ‘me time’. I would play The Sims for hours on end until my eyes were sore and I would have to drag myself to bed. Just a little bit more! There is no mistaking now, in hindsight, that I used this as an escape mechanism from the stresses of my life and unaddressed mental wellbeing issues. Then came MySpace, the first personalised profile I experienced. I remember it all feeling quite strange and vain as I hunted for cute photographs of myself to use, and the feelings of validation when I received positive feedback spurred me on. Today many of us think nothing of snapping dozens of pouting selfies in the best light possible, applying flattering filters until we look our best selves, or perhaps nothing really like ourselves at all.
When Facebook launched, I almost felt a bit like an intruder signing up, it seemed so daunting and technical, but ‘poking’ friends and ‘throwing sheep’ at friends was great fun and it cheered me to see a notification or message waiting for me. Over time though, the light-hearted status updates and poking have given way to photographs (good and bad), memes, chain-messages and targeted advertising. That cheerful feeling has given way to negativity, and I rarely feel joy scrolling through the newsfeed anymore. Social media has also encouraged my tendency towards social anxiety. I would agonise over what to write as a status, re-writing it repeatedly, until it ‘looked like’ I wasn’t trying too hard. Perfectly imperfect! Instead of calling or visiting friends, the years have seen me scrolling and ingesting status updates, leaving me with the false notion that that was enough to keep our friendships alive. But, through this overuse of social media, I realise now that I have lost a great deal of real social connection. Most people are never truly authentic in what they choose to reveal in their public profiles. Private messages, emails and even texts all have that lack of authenticity. Feelings cannot truly be conveyed, are taken out of context, or hidden completely, disguised by contrived words to make the person feel better about themselves. We only present what we want others to see. There is no facial expression, body language, friendly nudges, warm touches, shared environments or the sheer proximity of a person that often results in a long-lasting friendship. We are creating the illusion of connectivity via media and meanwhile we are losing touch with those very same people we think we know so well in our real and tangible lives.
In addition to the temptations of social media, there is no denying that television on demand is a phenomenon that is growing, with services such as Netflix, Now TV and many more providing hours of entertainment for extremely good value. The high cost of the cinema makes watching a film at home, downloaded from your service provider so much more attractive, and missing your favourite programme is no longer a problem with services like iPlayer to call upon. I really appreciate the big screen in our living room. It kept me sane in the days of cluster feeding my hungry new-born baby, or when I was too ill to do anything but lay spread out under a duvet watching boxsets. It is also wonderful to sit down together as a family to watch a film we’ve all been waiting for. But, is there a point where we are tuning in too much? When you are binge-watching yet another series on Netflix, the message ‘Are you still watching this’ pops up and you feel judged! When you are putting something important off in order to watch one more episode, there is that nagging feeling that you may be wasting your days.
These tempting and wonderful distractions have a time and a place. There is nothing wrong with enjoying a good boxset, or checking your social media, but when it consumes your life so completely that it becomes the first thing you do when you wake up, wait for the kettle to boil, have a bath or even go to the toilet, perhaps you should take a break. There is so much to miss out on, and the main thing for me is time. Most of us have a lot to pack into our days. Perhaps we have things we must do that we really don’t enjoy, but we leave ourselves such a small time window to complete this task that it feeds that negative association we have with it. Perhaps there are things we really want to do that we feel that we just do not have the time for. Time to think and reflect. Time to be creative. Time with our friends and families making authentic connections and memories. Time to work on our goals. Time to refresh. Time to do the things that you have been avoiding (the things that made you reach for that escape in the first place). There is so much time to do what we want to achieve and all we have to do is take it. Put down our phones, turn off the TV and start living your real life.
I have cut down on screen time so much over the last few months. I had to stop cold turkey with Facebook for the first two weeks, to break my habit. My routine was to check Facebook notifications, scroll down the entire newsfeed until I reached the point that I’d left off from last time. Then, check Instagram, emails and have a cheeky look at Pinterest. All of this was several times a day! I would also play Candy Crush on my phone in any dull moment, and often before bed. There are proven links between screen-time before bed and poor quality of sleep and I can safely say that I have experienced that effect. When I quit using Facebook, everything else stopped too. It took a lot of determination, and there were a few times that I opened up the Facebook app on my phone on autopilot! I decided not to delete the app, because I knew I wasn’t quitting forever, but by moving the app into a new folder on my phone it meant I had to engage my brain to find it, and by then I would hopefully realise what I was doing. It took a month of cold turkey, then severely reduced access, but I feel so much more awake now. I feel engaged in my surroundings. I have goals and I am working towards them because now I have the time to sit and think! I have time for rest and time for play. When I do sit down to watch a programme or a film it is because I have set that time aside for it, rather than setting time aside for my real-life responsibilities. Before, it felt like life was never-ending obligations and hard work, but now that I have freed myself from the distraction of screen-time, I am enjoying almost everything (even the dull moments) and I feel a drive to try new things and enjoy each moment, not just will it away so I can get back to Candy Crush. Now, the days are long, and I have so much I can fill it with!
I hope that this might inspire you to try cutting back on your screen-time if you feel that you need it too. Here are a few tips to help:
- Stop using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. If you simply must go on to check whether your friend has given birth (or something equally as special), quickly check their page and leave. Avoid getting sucked into the newsfeed.
- Move your social media apps to a different location on your phone, or delete them.
- Use your phone purely as a phone.
- Start using a watch so that you aren’t tempted to pick up your phone to check the time.
- If you are plagued by stress and feel like you must type a status into Facebook, try writing it down in a notebook. If they are negative thoughts you may like to rip them up afterwards.
- Try calling an old friend instead of using social media if you need to talk to someone.
- Plan your screen-time. If you are looking forward to the new episode of your favourite programme it will feel like much more of a treat if you haven’t watched anything else that day.
- If you feel like you must google something, try to resist and it will pass. Try writing down the things you would like to research and choose an allotted time of day to do it all in one go, rather than picking up the phone and googling whenever something pops into your head.
- Try not to use your phone first thing in the morning or last thing at night.
- Be kind to yourself. If you find that you have taken a step back, it’s okay. Tomorrow is a new day!