By Kathryn Hopper
Illustration by Jennifer Hart
Can less screen time make for a better 2020? I think so,
but check my stories to find out more.
I’m sitting at the stoplight at Southlake Boulevard and Carroll Avenue on my way to work, and I have a decision to make.
I have at least 30 seconds before the light turns. Should I reach for my phone? There could be a LinkedIn connection request waiting or perhaps a Facebook or WeChat message. Has anyone liked my last Instagram pic?
The average American checks their phone 58 times a day according to the RescueTime app, created to help people monitor their screen time.
All that checking and scrolling adds up to 3 hours and 15 minutes a day. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to spend less time staring at screens and more time actually interacting with real people and things. I want to read more books, listen to music, maybe start knitting or take my dogs on longer walks.
I found support and inspiration close to home.
Last year, Westlake Academy student Natalie Greenwood launched a school project called Digital Detox, a one-week break from social media. She invited others to join in, using the time they would have spent on their electronic devices to accomplish something else — deepening a relationship, developing a new hobby or improving an existing skill.
The website, teendigitaldetox.com, offers an inspirational video and tips for surviving an Instagram-free existence.
In a 2019 television interview, Greenwood said detox participants reported experiencing less stress, more focus and more satisfaction in their lives after stepping away from social media.
On the national level, how-to guides on curating your digital life have found a growing audience. Cal Newport, a computer science professor at Georgetown University, recommends a monthlong digital detox, a kind of Marie Kondo approach to cleaning out information overload, in his book Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World. His method involves shutting down all media, then slowly bringing back only what’s necessary or what sparks joy.
In How To Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, artist-author Jenny Odell, who teaches at Stanford University, says spending time in nature is the key to prying ourselves away from screens. She recounts the hours spent in mindful contemplation in a city rose garden in her hometown of Oakland, California, and finding connection with the crows she feeds in her backyard.
Historically, we have 19th-century American author Henry David Thoreau as an early harbinger of our modern desires for less-distracted living. In Walden, he celebrates the 26 months spent in a cozy cottage nestled by a pond outside Concord, Massachusetts.
While celebrating the joys of solitude, he also enjoyed hosting frequent guests, including his mom, who brought him sandwiches and did his laundry. In the book, he urges readers to not “look abroad for amusement, to society and the theatre,” but to instead make time to read, complete chores and observe nature. Without distractions, he pays closer attention to the small details of daily living, listening for the cries of whippoorwills at dusk and the roaring whistle of the morning train.
“I watch the passage of the morning cars with the same feeling that I do the rising of the sun,” he writes, celebrating both the technology of his time and nature’s glory.
So as I sit at the stoplight on Southlake Boulevard on this morning surrounded by cars circa 2020, I won’t reach for my phone. I will find joy in the rising sun and wait, in mindful contemplation, for the light to turn green.
And I will try not to honk my horn if the driver in front of me is checking Instagram. But I can’t promise anything.