Screens are taming us when we should be taking risks


I’m sitting the sofa, staring down absentmindedly at the spotted pattern of the cowhide rug beneath my feet. It’s Sunday, my newly instituted screen free day and I’m…


The thing is—I shouldn’t be bored. I can rattle off a list of eight things I like doing that have nothing to do with digital technology: hike, workout, cook, make something, play horseshoes, garden, declutter, write. Part of the reason I’m pushing myself away from screens is so that I can do more of these things.

So why is it so hard to get started? Why am I sitting on my sofa wishing I could flip on a sitcom instead of diving into any one of these eight things?

This got me thinking about how screens—phones, computers, TVs, tablets—lull us into watching and thus pull us away from the stuff we’d rather be doing.

Screens have tamed us, turning us into passive observers in our own lives.

For instance, I bet you can name at least one or two things you’re putting off right now. Hobbies you’d like to practice, skills you’d like to learn, places you’d like to visit. Why aren’t you doing them? Why are you watching a little blue screen instead, fully knowing that it’s less satisfying and leads to nothing?

Even more, what are you avoiding? What issues are you running from, and what new thing are you afraid to start? Because I bet you have a couple of those, two. I know I do.

I use screens to distract me from these things, to help me procrastinate, to help me run from problems. My heart wants adventure, risk, nature, growth. I want to build things and make things and explore things and fight for a good thing.

Instead, I’m choosing a screen.

Giving up what we really want to do shouldn’t be so easy…and yet it is

This choice is unsettling. It shouldn’t be SO EASY to put away the things in our hearts and minds, and yet screens have made it so. Power on, zone out. One press of a button and we’re stepping right out of the life we could be living and into a cage of our own making. And like animals in captivity, we begin to forget what life could be like on the outside.

By taking a day off from screens, I’m stepping outside of the cage, if even for a few hours. I’ll be honest—I don’t feel freedom. Instead, I feel the pressure of actually having to fill my newly screen-free time with real things. And…well…I’d rather not. It’s harder to do the things on my list, and I’m hooked on easy. But I don’t care—I’m committed to the harder thing anyway. The reward, which is actually living my life, is worth it.

Try it. Join me in a screen-free day. It’s a small commitment and could be the start of a new chapter of your life. Your actual life.

Related: Do you spend as much time looking at screens as I do?

Do you spend as much time looking at screens as I do?

screen free Sunday

screen free Sunday

I’m standing next to my bedroom dresser pulling socks out of the drawer to toss into my gym bag for the next morning. Finally it’s the end of the day and packing my gym bag is the last chore I need to do before I can relax. I can tell I’m drained because I’m moving r-e-a-l-l-y s-l-o-w-l-y, like a robot whose power is shutting down.

Finally I finish, and head downstairs to the family room, grabbing my iPad on the way. My plan for the next two hours includes watching cheesy sci-fi shows with my husband (much to his chagrin–I have terrible taste in TV shows) while idly surfing Pinterest, browsing the day’s new’s headlines, and catching up on email. I plop onto the sofa with a sigh while he queues the show, and then turn my attention to a cluster of apps on my iPad, preparing to settle in.

Suddenly I’m overcome by the very thought of emails and headlines and pins. Has this ever happened to you? After a full day of work and checklists and countless emails, the thought of more digital stuff makes me feel…blech. Immediately I’m just so over it. I can’t take one more bright, blue screen staring me in the face.

Doing the weekly screen-time math makes me realize how imbalanced my life is

Prompted by an increasing number of evenings with this experience, I took an informal tally of how many hours I spend staring at a screen during the week. The number came to 70 hours, or 10 hours per day. For context, there are 168 hours in a week, so I’m spending 42% of my time looking at screens (almost half!). Considering that I’m sleeping for 30%, that leaves a remaining 28% of screen-free time.

Now, I realize that screens are part of modern life. And like a lot of people, my occupation (digital content marketing) requires that I spend a lot of time on them. But deep inside I feel like this ratio of screens to everything else is way imbalanced. I sense that I’m missing out on something good.

When I’m looking at a screen, I’m in a stimulating world of ideas and images, but I’m detached from the physical world around me. I’m not using my body. I’m not experiencing nature or my varied senses. I’m not creating things with my hands. And if I’m around others, I’m not giving them my full attention.

All of this makes me feel like a robot. Except that I’m human, and I don’t want to spend my years as a robot.

Simple Life Lab Experiment: Screen-free Sunday

Consequently, I’ve decided to start a new lab experiment. I’m testing the impact of going screen-free on Sundays. Here’s the run-down of the experiment: I’m powering down my screens starting Saturday night before bed. I’ll restart them on Sunday in preparation for the next day.

I have two exceptions, and they both have to do with relationships:

>> Exception 1: Phone calls to my mom. I catch up with my mom (and sometimes other family members) on Sundays so I’m leaving my phone on. When I’m not talking with them, however, I’m distancing myself from the phone lest I be lured into checking for texts and alerts all day.

>> Exception 2: Watching TV in the evening. This is an activity I do with my husband, and I’m not going to pull him into my lab experiment against his will.

Here’s what I hope will come from this lab experiment:

I hope to notice a refreshing increase in my energy. My theory is that wholesome, non-screen activities will recharge me in a way that leisurely media consumption will not.

I hope to create more actual things rather than just consume the creations of others for entertainment.

And I hope to discover what I’m hereby calling “the Golden Ratio.” (I think this name actually refers to the universal qualities that make people’s faces look beautiful, but whatever.) This is the ideally balanced ratio between on-screen and off-screen time. Is the ratio universal? Does it vary from person to person? Is there any science to it? I’m not sure, but we’ll find out.

Is there such a thing a Golden Ratio for screen time?

Do you have thoughts about what the Golden Ratio is? How much screen time do you think is healthy, constructive, and feasible in a given day? (And don’t you dare say two hours because I’ll immediately conclude that you’re completely out of touch with the demands of earning an income today and judge you for being spoiled.) Also, how much screen time is in your average week? More or less than me?

Related: Screens are taming us when we should be taking risks