When I first heard the phrase “screen time” about 10 years ago, while working on a project with one of our nonprofit clients around combatting childhood obesity, it seemed like an important topic given that our country was finally waking up to the fact that we had more than just an obesity problem but an epidemic. It certainly made sense to me to set guidelines for kids that would reinforce the importance of getting outside, being active and living a healthier lifestyle. Truthfully though, there was part of me that wasn’t too concerned because as a kid I watched a lot of TV and turned out mostly fine and I was certain that when I had kids I would spend hours outside with them exploring nature or putting together complicated crafting projects and not in front of the TV….
Fast forward to late 2013 – I have two kids, a full-time job, a social media and pop culture addiction and more devices and screens than I can handle. Since the topic of screen time and kids has received a great amount of coverage and been analyzed by pediatricians, psychologists and all other kinds of experts, I will leave that to them with the one caveat that my 25 year old self had NO idea how hard it would be to monitor and police my kids’ digital intake and they are 4.5 and 16 months!! If you are interested in reading more on this topic check out a recent piece from The Boston Globe that breaks down the conundrum that many parents face.
Kids aside, I am left to wonder what about us adults and screen time? Should we be policing ourselves as much as we police the little ones? Employers likely aren’t going to scold us for spending too many hours in front of screens because that would mean less work on their behalf, our significant others aren’t up to either because they are equally as absorbed in their own devices as we are and our kids, well, they are all too happy for us to ignore them so that they can text, tweet and tumblr with their friends.
If we put aside the physical issues aside associated with screen time – tired eyes, inability to sleep, sore thumbs if you are still using a BlackBerry (etc.) – there is the larger impact of all this focus on rapid response and the next incoming message and I fear we are losing our ability to create, innovate and think. I have noticed that my mind is simply too busy all the time and I worry that it is impacting my ability to think in new and different ways and problem solve. As someone who makes a living giving my clients ideas, strategies and approaches to solving their communications and business challenges, this puts me in a difficult position. I have to balance being attentive to my clients at almost all times yet I also have to provide them with smart, insightful thoughts which is hard to come by if my mind is constantly going from one email, tweet and text to the next one.
Therefore, in the spirit of the back to school season and having a fresh start, I am going to endeavor to institute some new rules to limit my screen time and hopefully replenish my mind. If any of the below resonate with you or if you have any ideas for similar ones I can try, please send me an email, tweet or Facebook message:
- Establish three ½ hour intervals a day (outside of sleeping) where I will not look at a screen at all.
- Never bring any device other than an electric toothbrush into the bathroom. (Don’t act like you have never brought your phone in the bathroom)
- Three times a week pick up the phone to talk to a friend rather than text, tweet or Facebook message them.
- Three times a week spend a whole commute (train ride) reading a book and not on my iPhone.
- Once a week, take photos with an actual camera.
- Once a month write three cards/letters to friends or loved ones.
- Instead of immediately tweeting something you think is interesting or pithy, share it in a verbal conversation with a friend, colleague or family member.
- Start a journal and commit to writing in it one Sunday a month. Writing does not have to be prose, could include germs of ideas, song lyrics, silly observations or drawings.
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