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Friday, March 20, 2015

Screen Time, Unplugging, and The Joy of Missing Out


"My own desire to give up the Internet for a time originated from the growing restlessness and distractedness I recognized in my own life." 
- Christina Crook, Author of  The Joy of Missing Out

Screens: They get used as 'babysitters', for entertainment, staying connected, to look up information, and countless other reasons. And I'll admit it, I'm way more plugged in than I'd like to be. My work has me staring at my laptop screen and phone and I'm sheepishly guilty of looking at my phone more times throughout the day than I care to count. Sometimes I'll pick it up, catch myself and put it down again  just to prove that whatever that screen holds isn't as important as whatever else I'm focusing on at that time. 

"In our accelerated culture, we complain about having no time, all of the time, and yet we impulsively spend what free moments we have submerged in the never- ending drama of email inboxes (and) social media..."

I find I'm even more conscious about my screen time now that I'm a Mom; when I spend time with Ari, I like to be fully absorbed in whatever it is we're doing (but I do forgive myself for grabbing my phone to take photos and capture memories), and I'm also painfully aware that my actions set an example for her. I just don't want her to think a screen- whether it be a TV, a phone, or eventually a tablet/ computer- is the best way to enjoy life. I know, ironic coming from a blogger who hopes for others to read her work on a screen. But I know I'm not the only Mom reflecting on the role screens play in my family's lives. 

"Our energies, creativity and time- perhaps the best of us- are being committed to screens".

Having said that, I think there is a time & place for technology & screens, but we've become way more plugged in at the expense of really experiencing life. And I'll admit one more thing: on the days that I unplug and/ or limit my screen time, I'm much calmer, happier, and content; living in the moment is a simple reminder of how much time we've come to spend staring at a screen instead of absorbing what's going on in the world around us.


"By speeding through life with technology, you reduce what any given moment can hold. By slowing down, you expand it."
- Eric Brende, Author of Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology

When I got the opportunity to review Christina Crook's recent book, The Joy of Missing Out, I was intrigued to read her account about what it was like unplugging for 31 days. The book is based on her project Letters from a Luddite in which Crook chronicled her 31- day internet 'fast' and examined "the intersection between technology, relationships, and joy".

"Human relationships are rich, and they're messy and they're demanding. And we clean them up with technology."

Given the choice, I opted for a physical copy of the book over the e- version (I still prefer reading this way) and snuggled in ready for a good read. Says Crook: "I stepped offline for 31 days and chronicled the journey by typewriting and mailing letters to a friend every day. No Google mapping, no email, no Facebook or online news."  In the book she examines how technology has come to play such a significant, if not overwhelming, role in our lives. It is informative, discussing the progression of communication and technology, and our increasing dependance on devices. She also refers to a variety of authors and experts who offer intriguing tidbits to consider and I found myself reflecting on what they had to say and how it applies to my life (note all of the quotes I've included in this post from Crook & other sources within the book). 


While I found the book informative, it read more like a textbook I would have read in my Communications course at business school and I found that it wasn't what I had thought it would be. As someone who is trying to unplug more herself I was interested to hear more about Crook's own experiences about her internet fast, how she found she was spending her time in the absence of the world wide web, and her observations throughout the experience. I had looked forward to hearing daily recounts and insights as she progressed through the 31 days. This quote from the book demonstrates what I was hoping to find more of: 

"We are always on, never off. Constant access isn't a blessing anymore. Like most 21st century humans, I am burning the candle at both ends."


Don't you feel you can relate to that? I would have loved to see this internal commentary take a more central role in the book, instead, her experience seems to supplement a book about technology and communications rather than the other way around. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, or a reflection of the quality of the book itself, I can't help but feel that it was quite impersonal. At times I found myself thumbing forward, wondering when she would begin sharing more candidly about her experience only to find more of the same: information about the past, present, and future of communications and technology and how it impacts our world.

Regardless, learning about how others are tackling our constant connectivity and their own experiences with unplugging caused me to reflect and reinforced my own desire to spend less time in front of a screen. If this is something you are reflecting on in your own life, this book certainly makes an interesting read if you'd like to examine the progression of technology and how society has ended up where it is. I think if you go into reading this book with that outlook, you'll find it enjoyable and informative, but a personal journey book it is not. Either way, if you have been struggling with finding a balance with technology and enjoying life's simple pleasures, trying to slow down and  disconnect from the constant distraction and time suck that is the internet, email, social media, etc, I hope you will challenge yourself with the task of unplugging more often. 


If I took nothing else away from this book, it is the reminder that we have to live life to experience it. While I'm not sure I can disconnect for a full month (this blog is a passion of mine!) I am going to definitely be taking more time throughout the week- entire days even- to unplug and forget about what exists outside of my bubble within that time. Technology, social media, etc have all found a place in how we live today, but I embrace the idea that not every moment of my life or someone else's needs to be documented online for the world to see. Crook puts it well when she states: "Our technologies, while aiming to make our lives easier, have, in effect, made them more complicated. And we cary our complications with us". Sharing photos and connecting with friends and family half a world away is one thing, but we have succumbed to excess. As the saying goes 'you probably won't look back on your life and wish you had worked more' and I think this same logic can be applied to the time we spend with technology. 



The Joy of Missing Out by Christina Crook is available through New Society Publishers. $17.95 USD/ CAD

Christina Crook is a writer, journalist, and communications professional whose work has been featured in such publications as Vancouver Magazine, Today's Parent, and the Literacy Review of Canada and has worked for a variety of organizations including the CBC and Rogers Digital Media. A graduate of the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University, she currently resides in Toronto.





March posts sponsored by Little Dreamers Consulting