Our screen-free week ended eight days ago, but I’m only now getting on here to reflect on it. Considering how it went, that seems appropriate.
Screen-free week started Friday, Oct. 3, as soon as the kids got off the bus. At least, that’s when it was supposed to start. Having gotten home late from an appointment, I wasn’t quite ready to unplug everything – not emotionally, just in preparations. Being off of my computer for a week meant setting up vacation replies for emails, printing some calendars, schedules, documents, and lists so that I could work offline. Screen-free week wasn’t supposed to be a week off, just a week off of our screens.
Half an hour late, I’d shut down my computer and put it into a desk drawer. Another half-hour later, and I’d shut off all apps and data to my smartphone, other than my calendar. The only things I was allowed to use on it were the phone-as-a-phone and the calendar. At least, that was the plan. Two minutes later, taking the kids out to the van, I noticed the clouds and thought, “I’d better check the weather… Oh.” I wasn’t about to cheat already.
With screen-free week an hour late and only a few minutes old, I’d already had about seventeen lessons about how hard it would be to unplug for just a week. Lessons kept coming up. Each was also further proof of how important it would be.
Just a few days in, and I didn’t miss being connected anymore, but I did keep noticing how hard it was to stay off. I had a lot more time to read and study the Bible and our training books – even time with God (always offline, of course) was less mentally distracted – but my studying wasn’t as efficient or effective without the online reference materials I’ve gotten used to. I have a few dictionaries here (Tracy “would call several shelves more than a few”), but I don’t have commentaries or an encyclopedia anymore (I gave that to my folks, who aren’t online). Tasks that would’ve taken a few moments instead took much longer or couldn’t be done. However, I was also completing tasks and project easily delayed by online work and its distractions.
Harder to work around were some communications tasks. Our address book was on the computer – and I’d forgotten to print it before putting it away. Some tasks would just have to wait a week. One couldn’t, though: we had an invitation to speak at a local church just after screen-free week would end. We couldn’t fully prepare without talking to the lady in charge, whom we didn’t know (not even her name). Our connection to her was only through a former student’s mom, but we only knew how to reach through Facebook. Problem.
Tracy and I wanted to take screen-free week seriously, but we had also agreed not to be legalistic or pharisaical about it. This was an important, urgent, legitimate matter, so a small exception was in order: get on Facebook Messenger (not the full Facebook, but just a texting app), contact our friend, and ask her to give the other lady our address. Four minutes total: turn on data, get in, find our friend, message her, get out, turn data back off.
A few days later, we still hadn’t heard from her. Hmm. Time for another exception (and it was noticeably easier to decide that this time): back into Messenger, check for message, check for phone number (yes!), get back out. Four more minutes. I called her, got the information we needed, and Tracy and I prepared our talk. All of that was legitimate for work and true to the spirit of our screens fast; we weren’t loitering online, we weren’t doing it absentmindedly or for our enjoyment, and we got right back off. Commitment and dedication without hollow legalism, but I noticed that every time we had to make an exception, other possible “exceptions” came more easily to mind and fought harder to justify themselves.
Ultimately, that was the big lesson: for all our distractions and complaints about how much time they consumer, computers, the Internet, and modern communication technologies really do provide legitimate, productive, worthwhile uses. It’s so easy, though, to let them overtake us, distract us, consume our time.
We already knew that, really, but it’s good to remind ourselves and practice that sometimes.