How are you doing with the challenge to unplug from media for two hours before bed each night? Like many people at The River, I’ve spent the past month making a conscious decision to turn off the computer, TV, and phone in the evenings. I’m not a big television watcher, but I do love my social media.
To be completely honest, I’m not big on social media bans. I haven’t taken up the popular practice of giving up Facebook for Lent, and I have a fairly lenient electronics policy for the kids. In our current world, the Internet—including Facebook, YouTube, Pandora, Hulu, Google groups, Minecraft—is part of how we communicate, for good or not so good. I can see pictures of my college roommate’s kids on Facebook or look up video tutorials on why my washing machine is making a funny sound.
Copyright: prykhodov / 123RF Stock Photo
As a blogger who follows current events, I have found that a connection to the media is essential. But being constantly inundated with news and opinions is also exhausting to my mind, body, and soul. I was willing to try The Challenge just to turn off the noise. Couldn’t I be disconnected from the world for two hours a day? Part of me was also relieved to have an external reason to log off. Oh well, guess I can’t return that message… it’s good for my soul!
When it came time to put down my phone in the evenings, an image from my childhood came to mind. I remember watching The Twilight Zone late at night on one of those UHF channels that seemed to specialize in old re-runs. At the end of the program, an image of the American flag would pop up on screen as the Star-Spangled Banner played. Then the screen would fade to black until morning. I don’t know what the stars and stripes or the national anthem had to do with turning off the broadcast for the evening (Taps might have been a more appropriate tune), but it was a sign that the day was over, and it was time to turn off and rest.
In our age of 24/7 connectivity, we don’t have too many signals like that to rely on. We are so beyond the days when the setting of the sun formed a natural boundary to productivity, much less consumption. Our favorite shows are available on unlimited numbers of cable channels or streaming online, our phones are constantly buzzing with pop-ups to let us know we have an URGENT!! email—or an invitation to play Candy Crush. And how many of us sleep with our smartphones next to us? Or read e-books on our tablets, which constantly interrupt us with push notifications?
It’s not just the evenings when we have to protect our souls. Not that we need to go burn our rock-and-roll records (isn’t that a quaint image?). The kind of threats I’m concerned about are much more mundane. When I keep my phone in my bedroom, I find myself drawn to check it before I’m even fully awake, much less before I’ve touched base with God about the day or said a simple thanks to Him for the warm covers over me, my husband beside me, and my children in the next room. As someone who spends my mornings scouring the Internet and reading many different, and sometimes difficult, news items, I’ve learned it is especially important to keep those first few moments of the day sacred. If a salesperson, someone I vaguely knew from high school, or a person asking me to sign a petition knocked on my door before I had gotten out of bed, I’d be furious. But when I roll over and grab my phone off my nightstand, I’m basically opening my door to whomever and whatever… while I’m still in my pajamas.
This month I didn’t do a perfect job at staying away from media in the evenings. As the weeks went by, I found my personal challenge was to be more mindful of my media intake and how it affects my attitude. At times there were matters that seemed to justify usages—such as responding to an email from a teacher or checking to see if Saturday morning’s Little League game was going to be rained out. But I did feel myself critically thinking about whether turning on my phone was a practical necessity, a form of entertainment, or simply an excuse to zone out.
When my kids were little, we had limits on screen time. But as they get older, I consider my (more difficult) job is not just to teach them to set boundaries on their hours in front of a computer, but to model for them how to spend their time online wisely. Doing The Challenge as a family opened up a lot of discussions about what I am doing online and why I am doing it.
As The Challenge draws to a close, I’m not getting ready to binge-watch Netflix and online shop ’til I drop. I’ll probably do those activities a little, but with a fresh sense of awareness that sometimes they are distractions that use up my best energy and leave my senses too dulled to be present to God. And I pray for discernment to know when it’s time to be connected and when it’s time to log off.
If you have been engaged in the media fast, what have you learned about your relationship with media? Are there new boundaries or different practices that you want to establish after the Challenge is over?
Grace Hwang Lynch is a freelance writer and editor and full-time mom. You can find more of her musings on raising a mixed-race Asian family, as well as some great family recipes, at HapaMama.com.