I’ve written before about how I tend to avoid New Year’s resolutions. Generally, I believe in fixing things as they need fixing, not waiting for some arbitrary date on the calendar to get my crap in order. But this year I’m making an exception. I’m resolving to make this an analog year. I’m going to stop spending so much time in front of screens and bring as many offline activities as possible back into my life. Even if it’s inconvenient, difficult, or annoying.
As a member of Generation X, I’m part of the last generation that remembers a time before the internet. Or cable TV. Every generation since has grown up with at least some early exposure to these things. But us X’ers can remember a time before every damn thing happened on a screen. We remember having to entertain ourselves. We remember a time when information (too much of it, sometimes) wasn’t available at the touch of a button.
I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. Probably because I’m getting older and find myself telling people to get off my lawn, but whatever. I can’t help but wonder if something isn’t lost for those generations who know only digital everything. Sure, there have been some big gains and conveniences since I was a kid. Medical advances, for one. (Just never ask Dr. Google what’s wrong with you unless you want to scare the crap out of yourself.) I enjoy being able to answer a question without a trip to the encyclopedia (and then only getting a surface answer). Online shopping is the best given my hatred of stores and dislike of crowds. Cell phones are better than searching for a pay phone at 1AM. There are plenty of awesome things wrought by technology.
But… There is a lot of non-awesome, as well. Bullying, doxxing, news that’s either rushed and incorrect or out and out lies, endless distraction from the real work of living a full life, erosion of our relationships with real humans… The list goes on.
The trick is learning how to filter out the garbage while keeping the good things technology gives us. Easier said than done. No matter how much you may try to limit the bad stuff, it inevitably slips in. We get comfy and start surfing from link to link and suddenly three hours are gone and we’ve missed our night out with friends. Or we just can’t resist that website that we know offers nothing but junk. (Like junk food, it feels good at first, but eventually it comes back on you in bad ways.) We flip on the TV and are assaulted by nothing by bad news and drugs that will probably kill us before they treat whatever disease we may have.
(Side story. Our local TV station did a “Things that happened in 2019” recap for New Year’s. Every. Single. Thing. was something awful. Not one mention of anything good that happened in this area in the past year. And there were lots of good things. But the bad gets the eyeballs and the clicks, so that’s what gets reported. Who cares if we’re led to believe that we live in some sort of hellscape where nothing good or kind ever happens. This is what you’re up against when you try to combat screens.)
There’s a lot to be said for “The Time Before Screens” as I like to call it. In a perfect world I’d find a way to keep the good from that time while also keeping only the good things technology gives us. Or at least only the things that make me happy. (Netflix or The Sims may not be good for me, but they do make me happy. In moderation.)
Since the world I want doesn’t exist, I’m going to try to create it. At least as far as my circle of influence allows, which means in my own damn house, we’re going back to the 80’s. To a point.
I can’t stop other people’s angry rants on Twitter, but I can limit my exposure. I don’t want to stop watching certain shows, but I can learn how to do so in moderation. The news will still be a cesspool of rotting dog poo, but I can limit my exposure and search out reliable outlets. I can stop reacting to every little bit of internet outrage and give serious thought to which things really matter to me. (Not to mention learning which sorts of outrage are even based in fact to begin with.) I can learn to do my work online without letting the distractions of screens tank my productivity.
And most importantly, I can treat the actual humans in my life a lot better and do actual things with them instead of treating them as an inconvenience, or allowing each of us to spend time in separate rooms tethered to our screens instead of each other.
There is much I can control, and it may help to know why I’m going all control freaky this year. First of all, it’s an election year. Those are never fun under any circumstances, but this year will likely be brutal. I don’t like the shouting and the lies that go hand in hand with our democratic process, so I’m preparing myself now to minimize the damage to my mental health.
And that’s really what’s at the heart of this “resolution.” Mental health. (And physical health, but to a lesser extent.) The longer screens are in my life, the more I realize how unhealthy they are making me. I’ve always suffered from some degree of depression and anxiety. It’s just how I’m wired, apparently. But the years with screens have made it worse. My fear of the world (and other people) has grown. The news scares the crap out of me and makes me feel like I have no agency in my own life. I find myself forgetting that there is kindness, good, and intelligence in the world, given that much of social media is nothing but bullying or stupid nonsense. It’s hard to get perspective in an online environment.
Plus, my productivity is in the toilet lately. Some of that is due to other factors, but a good bit of it is simply that I cannot handle the distractions of a screen-based life. I enjoy my work so it hurts me when it suffers. I don’t want that to continue, and the only way I can see to make that possible is to go back to an older-school way of life.
How do I plan to create my little Utopia?
Obviously I can’t stop using all screens all the time. As a writer, long hours at the computer are the norm. And I need to research information, contact clients, and send work back and forth. That’s simply doing business in the world today. But I can be smarter about how and when I do these things. And I can work to incorporate alternatives where I can, and engage in non-digital activities to offset the screen time. I can work on melding the best of my youth with the best of today to create a routine that’s uniquely mine.
Here are my ideas to start with, and I’ll adjust and add more as I fine tune this plan.
Crafting. I enjoy crafting, but don’t do it as often as I’d like. I’m vowing to spend more time with the TV off and a craft of some sort in front of me. It boosts creativity, calms me down, and gives my hands a workout that’s different from working on a computer all day. There’s also a local craft group that looks like it might be fun to join, giving me time with other humans, as well.
Baking/cooking. Cooking is something that I’ve gotten much better at over the years, but baking is still pretty new to me. I want to learn how to make more of the things we eat like bread, cookies, cakes, etc. Not so much for the cost savings, but to control what goes into the final product and learn new skills, while giving me more time away from the digital world. There’s something about mashing dough with your hands that harkens back to a less complicated time.
Writing by hand. Yeah, a computer is necessary for a writer these days. But… I can and do make notes longhand. I want to expand that by perhaps writing first drafts longhand, as well. It’s time consuming, but I think my work is better when I begin longhand. Hand writing slows me down and forces me to think through every point.
Doing more offline research. I already enjoy taking my research into offline realms, but I plan to stop being so lazy and do it more often. Yep. Laziness often leads me to Google things that I can and should find out in other ways.
Outdoor activities. Generally speaking, nature hates me. I’m allergic to bee stings, mosquitoes flock to me, and I can guarantee that if there is anything that will bite, sting, or give me a rash within twenty miles, it will somehow find me the minute I step out my front door. Let’s not mention the severe weather that threatens my home and life every summer, either. Still… For all of that there is something to be said for getting outside more often. I’m challenging myself to find outdoor activities that I can actually enjoy. So far, bike riding is working out well… I can outpace most of the critters.
Learning DIY skills. I want to learn how to do more things around the house. My husband is so great at this stuff, but I really don’t know much beyond the simple basics. I know I can learn, though, and power tools can be my friends. So I’m setting out to learn how to DIY more stuff, both for cost savings and to give me more time in the real world.
More reading/Lego/puzzles/coloring/board games for entertainment. Too often lately I default to watching something on TV. I hate it, and I know I shouldn’t (and deep inside I don’t really want to), but it’s just so damn easy. When things get stressful, it’s so comforting to just plonk down and not think for a while. The problem is when that little while becomes hours and hours of vegging out. (Or scrolling for the next thing to watch without actually watching anything, which is worse.) I always feel badly after too much TV and it needs to stop. I need to stop defaulting to the easiest thing and instead bring myself back to the better and more fun analog activities that I love.
Outings to actual places. I enjoy being at home. As an introvert, it’s my comfy place. But every now and then I need to get out. There are plenty of high quality, low cost places to go out in the real world. Instead of watching TV or spending more time on the computer (or going out to the movies, which is simply a big screen), I want to visit more museums, comedy clubs, local theater productions, sporting events, parks, etc. Or just wander town, looking for things I’ve never noticed before. Maybe take some classes at the local community college or extension program. My area has a lot on offer but again, I usually default to the easy, comfy stuff. (And I vow when I’m out and about to not use my phone. I want to be present in the activity, not using my screen.)
Hanging with actual humans. I mentioned the craft group above, but I plan to congregate with other humans in other places, as well. Book clubs, board game groups, classes, etc. are all ways to get me out and among other people and away from the isolation of the screen-based universe.
Limit/improve the use of the screens. Hanging out in the real world is all well and good, but screens are the reality. However, I can engage in better practices when I need to use them. I can limit my time, for starters. An egg timer or app that cuts you off after a certain time is a good start until I learn better control. I can control who I follow and drop the people who post negativity. I can only go online when I have a real reason to do so, not simply because it’s easy or I’m bored. Many people are looking to do similar things and if you’re interested, there’s a group on Reddit for reducing the screens in your life. (I know, the irony is hilarious. But these people have some good suggestions to offer.)
Basically, my soul is crying out for a return to the things I remember fondly from my youth. And most of those had nothing to do with screens. Instead, they involved actual people and activities that required me to move more than my thumbs. That’s what I want to recapture. I want to remind myself that the world is a basically good and beautiful place and not the ugliness we see on our screens every day.
(If you want to read more on the subjects of cutting down screen use and analog activities, I recommend Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport, and The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter, by David Sax.)
(Image by Danny H.)