“Hello. My name is Moritz and I am an addict.”
This is how I sometimes feel I should introduce myself. According to Wikipedia, an addiction “is a state characterized by compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli, despite adverse consequence”. And this precisely describes the state I often find myself in when being online, or watching TV or playing games or texting. I am a screen addict.
“Ha!”, you probably think now. “Welcome to the 21st century! Aren’t we all addicted to screens?” Well, yes. In fact, I know a lot of people that are a lot worse than I am. But does that make it any better? Is it less of an addiction just because everyone is doing it? How would you describe the following behavior, if not addiction?
- I noticed that sometimes I buy groceries, come home and don’t even unpack them, but instead go straight to my iPad to check my messages. I has happened that I forgot about the groceries in the kitchen altogether and was surprised to find them an hour later.
- When I’m bored, my first reflex is to check something online.
- I also go online when I want to procrastinate on something less fun
Constantly checking your phone/ computer/ tablet is an addiction, nothing more and nothing less. It is compulsive (ever tried to not check your messages when you hear the ‘Bling!’ sound?), it gives you a rewarding stimulus, and often I find myself wasting hours (adverse consequence).
But having my life run by some bullshit addiction, and – even worse – doing nothing about was something I just could not accept. So I decided to go cold turkey. I made up my mind to not look at any screens for a day. You know, just to try it out and see where I stand. This is an idea I got from Tim Ferriss who does that once a week and says that it greatly increases his productivity.
Last Sunday I locked up my computer, my iPad and my phone and experienced my first completely screen-free day in weeks, possibly months!
Truth being told, I gotta say: at first it is totally weird. I woke up in the morning and couldn’t check my messages. I had breakfast and couldn’t listen to Podcasts as I usually do. I had no other way to find out the football results of my favourite team than to wait patiently by the radio until they mentioned them. All my daily routines, everything I usually take for granted, was interrupted.
So then I thought “Ok, I got all this time on my hands and no distraction from random internet bullshit. Let’s use it for something productive!”
But as it turns out, even most of my good habits require some form of electronic device! I could not write, because I do that on my computer. I could not record videos, because I do that on my iPad. I could not study Swedish, because I do that online. Hell, even when I wanted to do sports that day I felt a little weird, because I usually record my training with the Freeletics App!
So what did I do? What were my screen-free activities?
Mostly, I read. And I don’t mean just for 20 minutes, then checking my mails, then for another few pages, then reading something on Facebook, then going back to the book…. No. I lay down on my bed and read for more than 3 hours straight. And it felt amazing! It felt the way reading is supposed to feel, the way I remember it from long-gone childhood days: when you read until you completely forget your surroundings and fully immerse yourself in the story.
Furthermore, I had a long and undisturbed conversation with my mom. About nothing serious or special really, but just consciously giving her all of my attention and having no time pressure whatsoever already made it feel special. No interruptions. Full focus.
And then I went for a long walk next to the river in my home town. Again, really not that big of a deal, but usually I would at least have listened to music while doing that, and probably not have gone out at all, since I would have wasted the hours online instead.
Obviously not every day can be lived like that. You have to use computers and such, and they are of course greatly helpful in many areas of life. I wouldn’t want to live completely cut off from the online world for longer (not that I could).
But taking one day off from that online world really helped me to reflect on my habits, my time management and my priorities. Furthermore, I think that it is healthy to sometimes experience the state of screen addiction that most of us live in, experience the feeling of withdrawal and also make the experience that it is not necessary to give in to that feeling all the time. You can go a day without screens and be just fine.
I for one will make this a weekly habit from now on. Screen-free Sundays! And if you sometimes feel like you need some time for yourself, for peacefulness and serenity, this might be a good thing for you to try as well.