This was my seventh year of organizing Screen-Free Week activities for local individuals and families, and also of observing Screen-Free Week myself.* I always think at the beginning of the week that I don't use electronics much or mindlessly in my free time so it really won't make much difference to me. I always realize that I have been wrong.
I wasn't on a total electronics fast. I still used my computer for the farm's work. In my free time I wrote email letters to some friends. But I stayed off Facebook, didn't read news or book reviews or blogs or random stuff online, didn't spent time searching Elance for write-for-hire jobs, and deleted all my mass emails from Good Causes unread. This freed up a certain amount of time and unleashed a certain amount of discomfort.
There are good uses for all the things I stopped doing. Facebook has helped me get updates from distance friends and relatives and has provided a space for some interesting conversations across religious and other divides. Blogs have deepened, challenged and stretched my understanding of various issues. Online book recommendations have brought some excellent authors into my life. Online news sometimes occasionally helps me fill in the gaps in NPR coverage and get some understanding that can be well used for prayer or letter-writing...etc. But too often I use these things to stuff the empty places inside myself. When I'm lonely I crave Facebook or blogs for a quick-fix surge of connective feeling. When I doubt the value and adequacy of the basic work to which I'm called I am easily drawn into 'clicktivism'. When I feel too tired to concentrate I can easily sink a lot of time into online reading.
This past week I didn't have those bolt-holes. I had also just finished my current favorite long-running fiction series. So I spent more time just sitting with my loneliness, my doubts, my tiredness. That felt miserable sometimes, but it was salutary. Here at the end of Screen-Free Week I remember more clearly what I choose to do with my life, why I choose that and what the price of that choice is, and I am clear that it's a price I'm willing to pay. I am beginning, also, to have a clearer sense of when my attempts to reach out to people come from a clear. balanced and compassionate place and when they come mainly from nervous guilt.
I've also taken plenty of time to enjoy the real world around me--hepatica and spring beauty blooming in the woods as the snow recedes, salamanders emerging, frogs calling, steelhead spawning, woodcocks courting with spectacular aerial displays, sunrise and moonrise. I would have taken some time for this anyway as the spring unfolded late and quickly, but Screen-Free Week helped.
I am getting clear about some practices that may help me stay clearer going forward. For the next month I'll be trying these:
Check Facebook no more than twice a day. (I find it a bit embarrassing to admit that this would be a substantial change.) I'm not putting a time limit on it--if a substantive message has come in I will take time to reply to it; but I won't keep logging on randomly or engaging in rapid back-and-forths in which it's much too easy to say something I'll later regret.
Whenever I'm engaged in free-time activities online, stop every ten minutes, take a few deep breaths and notice what I am doing and whether it's a satisfying use of my time.
I am still trying to think what to do about the hydra-esque Good Cause emails. If any of you have suggestions, please let me know. If any of you have other online mindfulness practices that help you, I'd be glad to hear about those too.
*--The official Screen-Free Week dates are May 5-11 this year, but we've been observing it locally during the school's spring break week.
The official Screen-Free Week site is http://www.screenfree.org/