I’ve had lots of screen-free time before, when camping or travelling, and of course, for the decade or so of my life when the only screen was a black and white tv tucked in a dank basement.
With *everything* going on and the end of my online coursework for now, I decided to have a screen-free weekend at home. Just me, cats, books, pens, notebooks, crossword puzzles and the outdoors. I told a few key people I’d be off-grid, set my phone on Do Not Disturb at 5 on Friday, and tucked my laptop away. It was a great experience – highly recommend – but it didn’t go as planned.
Hour one: My fingers are already covered in fountain pen ink. Life couldn’t be more perfect.
Hour two (actually, first 15 minutes, just lived in denial a bit longer): I can’t wait to tweet about this. I’ll take a picture of … oh. Can’t take pictures.
Hour two (for real): WAIT! It’s not really offline if I’m thinking about what I’m going to post online.
No more journal.
Well, lots more journal, but the kind where I’m writing to sort out my thoughts and feelings (or to enjoy a new ink), not crafting potential social media posts.
The funniest lesson was that I have no way of knowing the weather forecast without a screen and that my ability to read the clouds and wind is, um, less reliable than I’d imagined. Laughing out loud is good for the soul though, so every time the snowflakes hit my sunglasses and bare ankles, my soul (and the occasional dog walker) got a treat.
It came as a great surprise that I could fall asleep – and wake up! – without playing spider solitaire or boggle on my phone for an hour. I turned out the light, got comfortable, and boom, eight hours of the good stuff. I do usually sleep alright, but without the game playing my eight hours started and ended earlier, so there I was, up and raring to go at 5:30 a.m. (Truth is, it was before 5 a.m., I’m just embarrassed about how early I go to bed.)
From now on, the only games I’ll play in bed will involve another person! (post-pandemic, sigh)
Ridiculous amounts of time. So. Much. Time. I’d had no particular plan to get a lot done, no big projects to tackle, but I was full of energy and there were no tweets or YouTube rabbit holes to get expend it on. I did a full day’s worth of chores around the house and, oh look, it’s 8 a.m.
It was all the extra time that did me in. I’d done more writing, reading, cleaning, walking, cooking, yoga, laundry and crossword puzzles than I imagined possible over the span of a week, and it wasn’t even dinner time. Maybe I had a lot of pent-up energy, I don’t know, but I ran out of things to do. I wasn’t bored, just done with the activities I’d been doing. Reading and writing need time to marinate, to float around in my head before I jump into the next world of words.
Every task I did got my undivided attention. Time stretched out, so there was no fluster if I needed to go back down to the basement or up to the attic for something or start over when things weren’t working out as planned. All those little mistakes I make when I’m rushing? Gone.
I use the Notes app on my phone to jot down random thoughts about what I need to do or check or buy. This weekend, when I had one of those thoughts, I wrote it on a sticky note. No big deal, right? Wrong! The first time it happened, I was making fudge and thought of a great christmas gift for my brother (non-fudge-related, no spoilers here). I wrote it down and … went back to the fudge. I didn’t see a bunch of notifications and click through to find out who was messaging me or liked an old tweet, no googling, I just made fudge. Using paper for quick notes is another change that’s going to stick. The fudge, by the way, is not complicated to make, yet somehow turned out way better this time than usual. Focus.
Our cats are not the stand-offish sort. They expect (demand?) constant attention and affection, and only settle into their hundred hours of sleep a day when they’re near (or on) a person. They were unsettled by my pottering around. They are 100% enablers of a couch-potato lifestyle. They’re also unused to being left alone now because I work from home a lot and my daughter’s school hours are less than half of usual. I did all my outdoor wanderings in one long trip to minimize their trauma, but it meant I was exhausted and hungry when I got home. Their neediness and my hangriness were a rough combination.
We found our balance again (we all had treats). But the tears in my perfect day had started, and I worried at them, pulling threads of dissatisfaction and regret. Why did I try to DO so much today? Why didn’t I just let myself BE?
Almost every time I thought of reaching for my phone or laptop I realized it was because I was trying to avoid something. An unpleasant emotion? Let’s take a picture of a cat. Task I want to have done but am not really thrilled about the ‘doing’ part? Online window-shopping seems so appealing. This played out over and over again. I can still avoid things without technology, really I’m a master at it, so the interesting thing to me was the noticing. Reaching for my phone is a sign I can use to notice active avoidance.
I Gave In
Almost 24 hours to the minute from when I turned things off, I desperately wanted them back on. I’d finished a great novel (The Long Call by Ann Cleeves, also highly recommend) and wasn’t ready to start a new one. I couldn’t do more exercise, my butt was already screaming every time I shifted my weight and I’ve learned that overdoing it physically lands me in a bad mood. My writing needed to percolate too. It was getting dark outside, the cats were relaxed for the first time all day, and I thought, I’ll do a jigsaw puzzle! Except I thought it without that exclamation mark.
I tried just sitting, savouring a glass of wine. I wrote in my journal. After an hour of distracting myself from my obsessive thoughts about it, I convinced myself that the only thing I could possibly do was read the non-fiction e-book I had started on my laptop. It was on loan from the library after all, and the sooner I was done with it, the sooner someone else could enjoy it.
Without google, I couldn’t find out if there was a way to turn on my laptop without seeing all the messages and notifications because I knew I wouldn’t be able to resist checking them. I’ll tell you, it took me a long while to come up with the brilliant idea to turn off the internet, just unplug my router. No wifi, no worries.
I read my ebook (but couldn’t return it to the library without the internet, oops). I have many other books I could have read. I don’t know why the pull of opening a device was so strong. It wasn’t social media I missed, and certainly not the news, it was the familiarity and comfort of sitting with my happy MacBook. I used it more on Sunday too, to type up and edit the work I’d done Saturday on my own book and a freelance job.
I went to bed without spider solitaire and woke up with a paw in my face at 6:20 on Sunday. I loved not having my phone there as I started the day.
Experiencing the shock of time and focus available to me when I’m offline means it’s a no-brainer that I’ll make this a regular habit. Maybe every Saturday? One evening a week? Two?
As an exercise in intentionality, I used to say out loud (yes, my kids laughed at the awkwardness of it) my reason for turning on my computer or picking up my phone. I might try that again, or simply remember the joy of single-tasking and pretend no internet exists whenever I can.
Having used my laptop Saturday so already “failed” at being screen-free, there was less sense of testing myself Sunday. I again enjoyed baffling amounts of free time. There was pretty snow falling, so I left my weather app untouched and bundled up for a walk in the winter wonderland. The cats lay on top of me for ages when I returned, and we all did nothing more than watch the snowflakes fall.
Until I decided the weekend ended at 5 p.m. Sunday, returned my library e-book and spent the evening writing this post and watching Netflix 🙂