Lately I’ve been concerned about connectivity – the world’s in general, and mine in particular. I read an alarming statistic the other day. Seems the average American spends nearly six months of any year plugged into one device or another:
- 65 full days watching TV or streaming video
- 48 full days listening to the radio or iPod
- 24 days online, searching the Internet, reading email or engaged in social networking
- 42 days talking, reading, texting or using one app or another on mobile phones or tablets
As a nation, we are collectively addicted to our own gadgetry – and I’m right at the top of the substance abusers’ list, plugged in 24/7. I turn on my laptop first thing every morning, checking feeds, responding to emails and messing around on social networking sites. I’m on a computer constantly at work, even during lunch, firing off more emails while scarfing down my salad. And I wonder why I have trouble sleeping some nights as my smart phone glows, charging two feet away on my nightstand. Clearly, I have a problem; I’m a prisoner of my own bundle and save plan.
A sign of our times? Yep, the world is changing. I work in a small town public library. In the old days, patrons used to meander leisurely around the stacks squinting up at the shelves, searching for good reads and the newest DVDs. Nowadays, we see them darting frantically about the building scrutinizing the floor and walls, in search of precious outlets in which to plug their phones and laptops.
There are numerous studies in progress attempting to determine the potential negative impact of a nation that has gone electronically bonkers. Time will tell. But we already know the impact that excessive television viewing has had on our youngsters. Childhood Obesity has been on the rise for decades. In the 1960s and 1970s, 5% of our nation’s children were considered obese. Today we have topped out at 16%. Now add the kids who are considered overweight, and that is 32% more of our youngsters. But it’s not just fast food that’s causing health issues. Kids are not moving enough.
The playgrounds of yesteryear saw us swinging on swings, sliding down slides and monkeying around on monkey bars. Today, the average child aged eight to eighteen spends over 6 hours per day on some type of electronic media, be it phone, computer, television, iPod, tablet or video game. Over the span of a year, that’s more than time spent at school or doing homework. Studies have shown that a child’s risk of being overweight increases 6% every hour per day that TV is watched. Put that TV in the child’s bedroom, and the risk increases to 31% every hour that it’s viewed. Add cell phones, video games, and computers to the mix and obesity is more or less guaranteed.
But it’s not just kids – given the fact that six months of any given year the average adult is plugged in, is it any wonder that over 60% of the U.S. population is overweight? Studies have also shown that our vast gadgetry is inhibiting our creativity and problem solving skills. Plus, it’s thrown our work-life balances out of whack and caused sleep problems, decreased productivity, and a rise in nervousness and anxiety.
This is serious business – and one of the contributing factors leading to my decision to unplug. Not completely, mind you — my work and other responsibilities preclude me from going totally computer and phone free. My resolution? Gadget-free Fridays, which kicked off yesterday; a single day of the week – my day off work – with no smart phone or computer, no iPod, Wii, or TV. Piece of cake, right?
My difficulties began with trying to figure out what to wear, not so simple a task during springtime in the Rockies. One day it’s 75 degrees and the next day it’s snowing. And so, what to wear – without the benefit of the weather report on the morning news or the freedom of logging on to Weather Underground? Sadly, it was quite some time before I figured out that simply stepping outdoors would help me make my wardrobe decision for the day.
As the hours ticked by throughout the day my resolve weakened. I threw myself into housework and laundry, but oh, how I wanted to check my emails. Late in the afternoon I stopped by the grocery store to pick up some dinner. As I waited in line, the young man ahead of me pulled out his iPhone and began texting. I found myself drawing closer and closer to him as he clicked rapidly away. It wasn’t until he turned angrily around with a stern “EXCUSE ME……” that I realized I was hovering right over his shoulder reading his texts.
Reading a complete stranger’s texts! Good heavens, how did I get this way?
I called Coach Stacy for advice and she immediately prescribed her “Media Diet,” which she claimed would be simple to follow as well as provide lasting results:
- First, unplug, get up and move, which I’ve discovered is easier said than done. The Surgeon General recommends we move to the tune of 10,000 steps a day, so just get out and go for a walk – every step you take counts.
- Unplug your kids, too. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no electronic media for children under two years of age. Oddly enough, over 70% of day care centers feature a variety of electronic equipment, including televisions and computers.
- Unplug electronics in the bedroom. Yes, that includes your television, phone and laptop. Studies have shown that individuals have less difficulty falling asleep and enjoy better sleep quality when they avoid television and computer use before bedtime.
- Schedule unplugged days for you and your family. Instead of watching TV and playing video games, plug into nature and enjoy the fun activities your region has to offer with pursuits such as hiking, fishing, biking and other outdoor sports.
- Hang out with family and friends and try some old fashioned game nights. Play croquet and badminton in the back yard. Try hopscotch, jumping rope and hula hooping. Roller skate or roller blade at your local park.
- Plug into yourself with some daily meditation or prayer and thought clearing moments.
- Set limits to media time. Substitute active and creative pursuits. You might also discover a world you forgot, watching clouds in the sky, and listening to birds chirping and the sounds of nature rather than the incessant click of your computer’s keyboard.
My next Gadget-free Friday is a week away and, strangely enough, I’m rather looking forward to it. Yesterday, while trying to decide on my wardrobe for the day, I brought my cup of coffee out on to the front porch and enjoyed a few minutes of peace and quiet just before the sun rose up over Table Mountain. And that’s when an amazing thing happened. A striking group of deer bounded out of nowhere into my yard. The instant they saw me, they froze – all except for a fawn, which took several more steps forward, stopping less than three feet away and meeting my astonished gaze with two enormous and inquisitive brown eyes. Then just as quickly they all lept away.
Had I been engaged in my usual morning routine, I’d have missed that magnificent moment – a consequence of connectivity. Next Friday I’ll be on my porch again with my cup of coffee, trying to figure out what to wear. And maybe – hopefully – the deer will return. I can’t wait.