New rule. I will spend no more than four hours a day staring at a screen of any kind. That’s television screen, smart phone, e-reader or computer. You don’t realize how much eye strain you’re causing till you’ve had eye surgery and are trying to recover. I underwent a procedure last month to straighten the eyes (successful) and alleviate the double vision (not), and since then I’ve become very conscious of my screen time.
For a while, my body let me know it didn’t like how I was choosing to pass the time by giving me a massive headache whenever I logged in somewhere. Even for 15 minutes. It was like reliving the 90s. My smart phone got dumb – it became (gasp – imagine!) just a device for making calls. And I picked up for everyone, even unknown numbers, because I couldn’t see the screen well enough to make out who was calling. A telemarketer’s delight. Even television became a problem. I was fine for a while focusing on the screen. The difficulty came in trying to look anywhere else, particularly at a different distance. Looking at the remote in my hand to change channels, for example, caused a shooting pain. Some decent show would end and I’d find myself watching a fishing show or some true crime drama, like Southern Fried Homicide. (No lie. It’s a real show.) Eventually, I gave up and closed my eyes. I now incorporate a midday nap into my schedule. (You should change it up too. Even if you work full-time on a computer – take breaks. Look away.)
It’s been a slow recovery. but I’m finally logging more screen time than 15 minutes. I’m back on the computer, playing Words with Friends and starting a book on my Kindle. But the memory of that pain is serving me well. Just because I can spend more time in front of a screen, doesn’t mean I should.
Besides, think of what all that reliance on technology is doing to our brains. When you were a kid you probably knew everyone’s number by heart. Heck, I can still recite numbers I learned in childhood. On the other hand, if my phone went dead today, I’d be hard-pressed to be able to reach a single relative. And what if we actually had to use our minds to find or remember how to get somewhere in our cars instead of just blindly following a computerized voice that politely tells us when to turn right or left? In an Atlantic Monthly article, writer Nicolas Carr proposes the Internet just might be making us dumb, that is to say biologically changing our brains – how we read and gather information and shortening our attention spans.
I’m a little worried. Sure, there’s a definite upside to all this technology. But let’s not forget how to be human. To actually look and converse with the person sitting across from you, appreciate the work of art or read an old fashioned book or newspaper – not just the online versions. A little less Facebook isn’t going to kill anyone. It’ll probably be good for you. And remember, it’s easier on the eyes, too.