Screen Free Week – Do You Think You Could Do It?

By Jennifer Drummond, ND

tabletThis is the challenge of the decade. Spend an entire week with absolutely no screen in front of your face. Feeling I already kept my screen time to a minimum, I was up to the task.

In order to prepare for writing an article for “Screen Free Week”, I decided to go screen free myself in advance and do it hard-core. No screens for 7 days. That meant no phone with a screen, no computer and no television. With the average person spending about 9 – 10 hours a day in front of a screen, could I really do it?

The television screen was easy to give up as I haven’t really watched much television for about 20 years. It was a decision I made in my late teens as I wanted my free time to be “living and interactive”. I decided I needed that time for myself to experience new things rather than sit in front of a box. And yes, I know I have missed out on a lot of great shows and it does make for a boring conversation with me when the topic is about “Game of Thrones”, but I manage.

The phone and computer were a bit harder. I had intentions to give up my cellphone completely for the week, as I thought I could make do with our landline, but it was a bit hard when I had to be “on call” for things related to my kids and their social activities. I fumbled a bit on this one with responding to a few phone calls and saying “yes” or “no” via text.

So, I gave myself a bit of a break with the rule that my cellphone would operate only as a phone. No music, no photos, no surfing the net, no checking emails/weather/time.

That meant a few changes for me.

Since my old watch was still broken, I was back to checking the time on the street parking machines, as well as asking people around me for the time. It was nice to be more outgoing and led to a good amount of pleasant interactions. If I felt the need to text someone who lived close by, I just knocked on their door.

Music was a big one for me as well, so this experiment was well timed. For a while now, I had been missing the good old radio. I hadn’t owned one for years since the phone stocked many of my beloved CDs. I’ve never been good at updating and changing the songs on my phone and the same CDs for years in a row was getting tiresome. I know it is possible to listen to radio on the internet, but it so much easier for me to actually turn on the radio instead. I joke to my friends that I am really an 80-year-old woman inside when it comes to these “techie things”, but then I am put to shame by my 94-year-old great aunt who has a smart tv and a skype account.

So, in honour of my “Screen Free Week”, I bought myself a second-hand radio/CD player for $6.99. I loved this part of my challenge. I felt like a teenager again, although instead of moshing to Pearl Jam, I was now cooking to Pearl Jam and inspiring interviews on the news.

The computer was the hardest of all. In order to prepare for this week without a screen, I had to make sure I had all of my work done ahead of time. It made me be on the computer way later at night than I would have liked to admit to my patients and my “no screens an hour before bed” rule went out the window for a few nights that week.

I admit that I still needed the computer a bit for work during “Screen Free Week”, but with the added pressure of being screen-free, each time I used it I had complete awareness of doing so. I kept to only work-related emails, research and documents; anything fun or entertaining was out of the question. This also kept me from going down the enticing “wormhole” of information and facts that is always tempting.

What did I learn from this experience? Overall, I noticed I had more time. I read more of two books I’ve been meaning to get through, got a good chunk of the spring cleaning done and played a lot more with my kids.

I also became aware of the “nag” of wanting to check my phone just to check it or look at something on it. This usually happened in quiet moments like if I was waiting to meet someone or after putting the kids to bed. It was incredible to realize how trained I was to want to check my phone, even when I had no dings from incoming messages. That “nag” became less and less throughout the week and I either just took in the scene around me, read a book or on one beautiful sunny morning, I simply closed my eyes and sat under a tree.

And being strict with my screen time also made me appreciate the technology we have around us. Usually I am more on the “no screen” side and can easily point out the negative effects screens have on us, but actually going through the process gave me a new appreciation of these tools we have at our disposal.

What I found most helpful was the awareness I developed with each time I was called to use a screen. I had to make a conscious choice to use it or decline. I was very aware of each minute I spent and conscious of each click I made. As soon as I was done my task, the screen was down and off. I found that awareness to be key to maintaining a balance with my use of screens. If you are aware of your choice, you will be aware of the time you are spending.

Overall, I thought it was a great process to go through and hope others will be encouraged to try!

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