Screen time can become an addiction if not regulated. To the teenager who is connected to friends online, it can be difficult to unplug for a few moments. They have a deep desire to know what’s going on with their friends and in their world. To be offline for a few minutes risks becoming invisible, irrelevant or worse, forgotten.
As adults, we may be aware enough to remove ourselves from our various screens. However, I must admit that, on occasion my eyes will start to burn while working on my computer to the point where I need to stop and put in a few eye drops.
Did you know that studies show us that our blink rate dramatically decreases when we are on the computer, producing what ophthalmologists call dry eye. One such study “measured the blink rate of 104 office workers. The average blink rate was 22 blinks per minute under normal conditions, 10 blinks while reading a book and only 7 while viewing text on a computer.” (1)
Taking periodic breaks from the screen is helpful for all of us, not just for our kids. Here are three things we can’t do while staring at a screen but desperately need in our life.
1. Be Still
I am not talking about sitting still, I am talking about being still in our heart, mind, and emotions, which is unlikely if we are in engaged in front of a screen. Nicholas Carr, bestselling author on technology and culture, has this to say:
Media aren’t just channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. (2)
A verse like Psalm 46:10, can serve as a reminder to cultivate stillness: “Be still, and know that I am God.” Or as Job 37:14 says, “Stop and consider the wondrous works of God” (ESV). When we are in front of our screens, research suggests that we are constantly active.
When we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning. It’s possible to think deeply while surfing the Net but that’s not the type of thinking the technology encourages and rewards. (3)
2. Be Quiet
“Whenever we turn on our computer, we are plunged into an “ecosystem of interruption technologies,” as the blogger and science fiction writer Cory Doctorow terms it. (4)
It’s hard to be quiet in the midst of noisy interruptions. I like what Jesus said to His disciples, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” Luke 6:31a NLT
When we are online, we are often oblivious to everything going on around us. The world seems to fade into the background of whatever we are watching, doing, or interacting with on screen. When I am online, staring at the screen, I can usually hear what is going on around me, but I am not listening to what is going on around me.
My wife Mary tells me there is a big difference between hearing and listening. She is a speech pathologist and an expert on the topic. She tells me the main difference between hearing and listening is attention.
She says that hearing is a passive physiological response to outside auditory stimuli—an alarm clock, a car idling, a bird singing, the barista making my grande nonfat caramel macchiato. You don’t have to focus to hear what’s going on around you.
Listening, on the other hand, is an active behavior and requires focus. Active listening means that everything––your eyes, ears, mind, heart and soul––is engaged, and you simply cannot do this while in front of a screen. So, no, you can’t be engaged in active listening to your mom, dad, son, daughter or spouse when you are on Facebook, twitter, instagram or pinterest. Yes, you can hear them but not listen to them.
1. Which practice is most needed in your life right now, Stillness, Quietness or Listening?
2. How can you do a better job when communicating with others in your family?
3. Is there a place or time in your family where “smart phones” are not allowed? Where or when?
(1) K. Tsubota and K. Nakamori, “Dry Eyes and Video Display Terminals,” New England Journal of Medicine, 328, 1993, pp. 584-585, quoted at “Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS): Dry Eye,”
(2) Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010), Kindle ed.
shutterstock.com Image ID: 207332101 © MNStudio