Only in America would someone go for a week without technology and then blog about it. Last week my kids and I challenged each other to go the entire week without our phones, tablets, computers, and TVs. (Okay, I issued the challenge. They went along with it very grudgingly.) It was a perfect time to do this, since school isn’t in session and relatively few people need to get in contact with any of us. I did allow phone calls, but that was it. So what would we, a typical modern family, do without our screens for an entire week? I envisioned dramatic changes and unintended consequences, but to be honest, the whole thing was pretty anticlimactic. I guess you could say the experiment was a failure.
I dreamed of a cleaner house and piles of books read during all the free time I had without screens to distract me. But neither of those things happened. My house is approximately the same level of “clean” that it always is, and I read about half a book during the entire week. There were a few inconveniences from being tech free, but frankly, I didn’t miss the screen all that much. For their part, the boys complained a bit, but otherwise the tech free edict impacted their lives little. They simply turned to other activities–reading, Legos, even origami. There were no major changes in sleep patterns, disciplinary issues, or communication. I was kind of disappointed, really. I entered the week with high hopes, fully expecting drastic results, and the end result was…nothing.
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the “non-result” was, in fact, a good result. It’s proof that we aren’t addicted to our screens. I make a concerted effort to limit screen time for my kids. I only allow my boys access to the phone and Kindle after lunchtime and after their chores are completed, and then only for a set period, monitored by a timer. Other than that, they play an occasional baseball game on the Xbox and watch a movie or a Cardinals game here and there, but I rarely use screens as a babysitter or to keep them out of my hair. As for myself, I try to wait until they’re in bed to get on my phone or iPad to write or check Facebook. Some days I’m better at this than others, but I am cognizant of my own usage so I can model for them a healthy balance.
While I was without access to screens, it was somewhat freeing for me; a mini vacation of sorts. It was nice not to have to check email or texts constantly. I had set up an automatic “out of office” reply for email, and I had let my main texting contacts know about “going dark,” so I wasn’t too worried that I would miss something urgent. And when I reconnected, it only took me about an hour to catch up with everything I had missed. Yes, I had 162 new email messages, but the vast majority of them were junk mail. I responded to a few people, caught up with the texts I had missed, and checked my notifications on Facebook. So in an hour I was able to catch up from an entire week, which made me wonder why it’s so easy to spend an hour a day (or more!) glued to a screen, especially when I didn’t really miss my phone that much while I was off.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not condemning technology here. One can hardly be expected to go completely screen free in modern-day America. People regularly communicate through texting and email, and that’s fine. I keep in touch with friends better via text than I ever did with just a phone. I write blog articles and book manuscripts on the computer. Technology definitely has its benefits. What I don’t like is the overuse (or abuse, as the case may be) of technology. The chime of a text notification can interrupt family dinner or conversations with friends. And sadly, that’s becoming the norm. We expect friends to check their phones while they’re with us. It’s not a big deal anymore to be interrupted. Or is it? Only time will tell how it affects kids when their parents are constantly distracted and not giving their full attention to their kids on a regular basis. Who can measure how it weakens relatioinships or builds resentment if spouses rarely have conversations uninterrupted by each other’s phones? What message does it send the person you’re sitting with if you check your phone the second it beeps at you? I would much rather be in charge of my own screen time, rather than allowing my screen to control me.
So my tech free week may not have been a complete failure after all. It was a great litmus test as to exactly how reliant my kids and I are on technology. And the fact that there were no drastic changes to report means that we’re doing a fairly decent job of limiting our usage. Consider running your own sort of litmus test challenge. Obviously if you have an office job or run your own home business you can’t completely check out for a week, but consider making a “tech free time” after work or in the evenings. Maybe you’ll find you need to make some changes, and this can motivate you to do just that. But maybe, just maybe, you’ll find it didn’t affect you nearly as much as you’d think.
Your challenge just might be a successful failure.