I have been contemplating taking a break from screen tech. All of it. Phone. TV. Tablet. iWatch. Computer. All. Of. It.
It’s more difficult than you might think, and I thought it was going to be pretty difficult to begin with.
The reason I started thinking about this was because we had a discussion as a staff about bringing in a speaker to discuss technology and anxiety with parents. One of my coworkers passed along a book to me that she thought I might find interesting called How to Break Up with Your Phone. Not only did I find it informative and thought provoking, I was really disturbed by how many of the things I did that the author listed as signs that you have a phone addiction. I encourage you to pick up this book. I can pretty much promise you that you will be equally disturbed.
Once I finished going through the stages of grief in relation to my apparent phone addiction, I accepted that this is now a way of life for the generations of people after us. Not that we should not limit and monitor our usage of phones and other screens. We should! Only that from this point forward every subsequent generation will have more and more tech issues that we could not have imagined while in our youth.
How do we proceed?
When I began to consider my tech break, I started thinking about how else I could use my time. Which is really weird. Up until 2008, I never once thought about how I would spend my free time other than to make a list of the things I needed to get done. Even then I did not contemplate the 10 or 15 minute breaks in between tasks as I started doing now. It was like my mind had been hardwired to think that I cannot possibly go even that short amount of time without somehow being occupied.
I’m losing my ability to be bored. That’s really bad.
Every major creation in the history of man has been born of 2 things: necessity or boredom. Thomas Aquinas spoke about boredom using the word acedia, which means a state of listlessness and melancholy. The problem is that the world is a much different place now than when Thomas was writing about the church, theology and everyday life. He lived in a time when boredom meant if you did not actively work toward raising and growing your food, you did not eat. If your sloth took over your life, you perished. Your necessity for food and shelter required you to work constantly toward that end. This, Thomas argues, is true of your spiritual health as well as your physical well-being.
Now if we don’t feel like cooking, we can still get food within minutes via takeout or even ordering online. Often times in response to the question, “What did you do last night?” we respond with, “Oh nothing.” In reality we watched TV, played on our phones, enjoyed the comforts of our homes and fully embraced the technological miracles of the age in which we live. I’m not just commenting on this so that we remember to be more grateful for the things we have (although, yes, we should), but to point out that we are not very good at organizing our time in a world in which we are given many opportunities to increase our leisure time.
Boredom is more and more prevalent in our youth as well. I hear it from my daughter when we have anything more than two minutes of free time at home. I don’t blame her for wanting to be “doing” at all times, but I don’t like it when we get home to a place filled with books, board games, crafts, sleds, balls, and endless supplies of dirty dishes and laundry that need to be taken care of, only for her to say, “I’m bored. We have nothing to do.” It’s enough to make a parent crazy at times thinking that they need to occupy every moment with some form of entertainment.
And therefore, we turn on the TV. Even though we know we need to limit screen time. Even though we know the content of most shows isn’t up to our personal standards. Even if we somehow convince ourselves that by turning on the Closed Captioning feature and making our kids read while they watch TV somehow make the action educational. We know there are better ways to spend our time together.
So how do we combat this tech dependency for us and our children? I think we need to become both comfortable with and see the value in boredom. We can use our minds more willingly and freely if we give them a break every now and then.
We marvel at the ability of children to open a toy and be grateful for it, then immediately turn to play with the box for the next hour. It’s wonderful and joyous. Perhaps that should be our goal. Let’s stop looking at the fancy things with which we surround ourselves and more at the proverbial boxes around us that we undervalue.
Let’s take a break from our tech together and allow our minds freedom from the constant flow of visual noise. Boredom can be a valuable tool that we should stop treating as an inconvenience and more as an opportunity for creativity and growth. Let your kids be bored and see what happens.