I have a binge TV watching habit. Currently I am on Season 3 of The Americans. I justify this habit by telling myself that everyone needs to check out sometimes. Nancy reverts to reading The New York Times and The Washington Post on her phone fifteen times a day. My friend Alia follows every detail of each victim of every disaster in the news. All three of us are spending time that could be spent elsewhere, doing other things, real life activities that would make us feel happier.
I love all things Prairie Days. I was a devotee of the whole Little House on the Prairie series (books and television) and I love Willa Cather. The wholesomeness and completeness of the lives of pioneers makes sense to me. I sometimes wonder if Laura Ingalls Wilder ever had “check out” time. It’s not that the lives of the pioneers were without struggle or drama, but the necessary tasks to make daily life function kept everyone on track and focused and in constant connection with each other.
Recently Nancy quit her news habit in preparation for a week-long retreat where she’d be without internet, phone or any other kind of media. When she came back she stayed off her devices, especially the news sites. The day she got back she said to me, “Laura, my Lyft driver in California kept talking about Las Vegas. What happened in Las Vegas?” This was several days after the massacre. About a week later she started to tell me about a Tom Petty video a friend had emailed her.
“It’s so sad that Tom Petty died” I said.
“Tom Petty died!!!!?” Nancy screamed in surprise from the couch.
The changes I’ve noticed with Nancy being mostly news free (she only reads it on Sunday now), are that she seems happier; she reports feeling better overall, more at ease and balanced. Nancy has replaced her news time with meditation, spending time with her family and friends, and reconnecting on the phone with other people she loves. This summer when I started a garden as a habit to counter my after-work screen tendencies, I too felt happier and more balanced. Being outside, seeing the fruits of my labor has given me a sense of joy and accomplishment. The shift from vacantly filling time (escaping into media) to engaging in something real is a choice that Laura Ingalls Wilder never had to make.
For many of us, the drive to escape from the intensity of life is strong. Most of us are inundated with details about news and other life issues even if we don’t want to hear them. Living in a city, having a job, raising families, we have to be connected to function. There are tasks we need to be engaged with — driving carpool, paying bills, cooking dinner, organizing work tasks. It’s the modern day version of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s family responsibilities — sowing the wheat, building the barn, churning the butter, planning the church picnic.
The problem is that a lot of these current era daily functions bring us to our phones or laptops. Look up a recipe online, pay bills with online banking, text the parents from soccer carpool. We have too much connection. We’re so used to this information overload that we fill our quiet time with more of it, exacerbating the problem and systematically destroying our ability to be without our devices.
The two times I am actually without my phone on a regular basis are in the yoga room and in my bed. I always plug my phone in downstairs in the kitchen when I go to sleep and we have a cell phone free yoga studio, so the phone stays quiet when I am practicing or teaching. I’m grateful for these few hours of each day that remind me that I don’t need to be connected to my device to be connected to the world, the real world. Divesting from our devices is a practice, just like quitting caffeine or meditating. I will still use my device to coordinate and plan and organize and get information, but I’m committed to being ever mindful of where my true connections are — with myself, with other people, with real life.