Screen/No Screen: My Commitment to the Uncomfortable

There was a moment at the airport where I was watching two people on their iPads. One was an older woman, the other was a small child. They happened to be sitting next to each other with a seat in between.

I knew I as inspired, but didn’t know why. Then it became clear.

There is a game I play now called “Screen/No Screen.” Here are the rules:

  • Randomly notice throughout the day whether you are looking at a screen or not at a screen.
  • Regardless of which it is, yell it joyfully in your head. (Screen! or, No Screen!)
  • Soak in the details of whichever it happens to be.

This game is proving to be quite fun. Sometimes I’m doing the dishes and I yell silently, “No Screen!” I proceed to notice all the possible details that I can about the moment that make it not-a-screen. The three dimensions. The colors of the soap bubbles. The way they smell. The temperature and texture of the water. The sounds around me. The bigness of the world; it’s independence from my fingers.

Then other times I say “Screen!” and I notice the flatness, the control, the comfortable sterility. I notice the relaxed feeling I have at the complete absence of social pressure. I take a second to look at the space between the back of the computer and the wall, or the space between my face and the screen. The space around us, the space above me. All of it.

Why Play Screen/No Screen?

There is one thing I’ve noticed about certain potently scary and dismal interpretations of where mankind is headed. Take Wall-E, for example. I love that freaking movie. Also, take Farenheit 451. Look at the worst parts of those potential futures.

The biggest problem is not the technology or evilness of people. It is that the people don’t quite have perspective. The ones that do maintain perspective and a willingness to be uncomfortable are the ones that make it. They are the ones that still dare to walk in the rain. The ones that can talk to each other without an electric medium. The ones that can see what is happening rather than being a mindless part of it for the sake of not feeling awkward.

For me, the willingness to be uncomfortable is the primary difference between just looking around at the world and being glued to a screen.

Understanding The Allure

There are a lot of reasons to have a screen, especially for those of us that are socially awkward or shy. For instance:

  • It gives you full control.
  • It doesn’t get emotionally hurt by anything you do.
  • It can’t judge you.
  • It is bright and shiny.
  • It is easily replaceable.

All of these things make it seem like a great choice in the moment-to-moment. But making that choice every time anything is awkward is what can lead to problems.

That is, after all, how I got addicted to cigarettes. They became the solution to any possible feeling of awkwardness, joy, sadness, anything.

Why would I want my cell phone or computer to do the same thing? Should I make a happy status update every time something good happens, check Facebook any time I feel awkward in a coffee shop, look at my email as soon as we are high enough above the clouds so that the in-flight WiFi works?

Or could I talk to a stranger, look out at the TOPS OF CLOUDS, make a new friend at the coffee place, feeling awkward or scared sometimes but doing it anyway?

Just Notice

No matter how much fun the screens are, no matter how much we need them for our jobs or social plans, we can always remember to note that sometimes we are looking at them, and sometimes we are not. No judgement; just noticing.

Instead of making a commitment to my health or happiness or joy or talent, I am going to make a commitment now to not fear being uncomfortable. When that feeling arises, as it undoubtedly will, it is simply a sign that I am not fully absorbed in an emotionally sterile future, and that I am still alive. There is no reason to intentionally use fewer screens because I can play Screen/No Screen and trust that I will not forget the difference.

How do you feel about screens, technology, tablets, phones, computers? Are they all-good or all-bad or somewhere in between? Do they affect your levels of inspiration in any way?

Do you think humanity is bound to rely on these things more and more for social interactions, or do you think there will always be people who have a sense of perspective on the whole scene?

I love to hear what you think!

29 thoughts on “Screen/No Screen: My Commitment to the Uncomfortable

  1. I can relate! I do the same thing when I want to escape a situation. It is easy to disappear into an important email or article no matter where you are! Technology is always a double edge sword. It can enable and it can be a crutch.
    I spend most of my days in front of a screen because I chose a tedious, mind numbing career in animation. I think I might start trying your game out for myself, not by choice, but because I will be thinking of it now lol!
    I try to balance my days by making sure I feel life, often. Like today, it was raining outside, I had finished a job and I was thinking of starting the next one on the list. Instead, I went for a run in the rain until my lungs begged me to stop… and now I am back in front of the screen again.
    The internet has connected people, socially, in amazing ways. I believe we are all connected without it, but it is hard for us to recognize what that connection is. The internet lets us find ourselves in others, which is amazing. Normally, a unique person is born into an environment with nobody to reflect their uniqueness back to them. This suppresses their nature and can even lead them to feel shame for it. We are mirrors to each other and by which means we use to reflect is simply the wire to the signal.
    My hopes are that our human abilities will evolve, not dissolve, with our technologies. This means that our systems of order will have to stop pushing dependency in people in order to push profits. We are all in this evolutionary process together. What one does to the other effects the whole.

    • Wow, I love the idea of running in the rain! Such a good thing to do! And I agree with you about the benefits of the Internet in terms of reflecting uniqueness. I also share your hope that we will evolve with the technology! Thanks for such a thoughtful comment πŸ™‚

  2. Hi Jen,
    I think your post talks about having basic awareness of ourselves and “screen/no screen!” is a great way to start. I think distraction and screen-time are so very common, because we are feeling something we want to avoid. If we also take things one step further from “screen/no screen” to notice how WE are feeling, then we can start to change awkwardness or dis-comfort into something we can appreciate. Just being in the moment is pretty hard to do!

    • Ah yes, you are very right; it is hard to notice how we feel! I find that when I am like “No screen!” it tends to automatically help me touch in with how I feel; but I have yet to do that in a state of extreme awkwardness. Now I’ll keep my eye out for those times to try and transform them, too..always something to look forward to!

  3. Wow! Awesome post. I really like the idea and I’m going to try it. I love what you write about and how you write it… truly a gift to the blog world, you are…

  4. I spend most of my day in front of a screen, I work in an IT area so imagine. Having said so, there are some things that cannot be replaced. When you need a hug, or somebody to hold your hand, the voice of a person you care about, the look of his/her face when you are talking, reading a book in a coffee house and somebody asking if you are enjoying the reading and then a conversation starts … just balance …

    • Mm yes, balance is indeed the key. I wonder about the difference of perception between people like you and me, who *have* to be near a screen a lot of the time for work, and the people who are always making a choice to use the screen. Interesting!

  5. Great thoughts on this. I’ve definitely noticed my increasing dependence on screens. When not handling a specific task, I feel compelled to interact with an electronic device of some kind. Waiting in line at the grocery store, must check phone. Waiting for the water to boil on the stove, must use the computer. Screens are inching out what used to be my silent, thinking times. Screen/No Screen is something I plan to try. Just like writing down food items to keep track of nutrition, I’m guessing it will surprise me to learn how much screen time I’m putting in. Thanks for the fantastic post!

    • You are very welcome, thank you for trying it! I agree- inching into the silent and thinking times, that is the feeling I was getting, too! Especially when the sites that writers are *supposed* to use are piling up and demanding more time. I hope the game goes well for you. I have to say, I keep using it, and it never ceases to help me see the perspective of things and make the most of non-screen times. (It’s also interesting how much not-screen time can be spent thinking about a screen…)

  6. This is such a great idea…very creative! The topic reminds me of many articles on my site that I’ve written on technology and it’s place in contemporary culture….thanks for an interesting read πŸ™‚

    Courtney Hosny

  7. Your commitment to the honesty of awkwardness and to the meaningfulness of uncomfortable moments is quenching on a skilful level; of what, I cannot pinpoint, but your ‘perspective’ seems to grasp everything within its reach. And possibly everything outside of its reach as well. Inspiration dwells in this post. Abundantly, fearlessly, and totally on-time.

    It’s a certain sadness for me: the gap between me (generation X) and my teenage stepson (and his peers). There’s a deepening void. I think we are too terrified to peer into its trenches, petrified of finding a reflection of our own failed notions of progress.

    Technology is mind-numbing and mind-stimulating. It is a disease of the spirit that rejuvinates the mind.

    For example, without it I would never know the slightest thing about you, about your perspective, about the frequencies that vibrate within your mind. (Can you imagine trying to explain to the beatniks how in a mere fifty years human beings would have non-verbal conversations with any person on the face of the earth who chose to listen — from one side of the planet to another, yet simultaneously in REAL TIME — and that the conversations would consist of one person thinking a thought, typing it into the ear of the universe, attaching a picture of themselves as they thought it, pushing ‘send’ and within seconds receiving a response, or even thirty-seven responses? And can we really wrap our brains around the implications of that fifty-year leap in the mechanics of human interaction? Fifty years from now our cloned robots will imagine giving birth to our children as they simultaneously imagine those children giving birth to our grandchildren and healthcare will be free for everyone because we will all be hollograms anyway…)

    A week from now, I will vividly remember the image in my mind I have of you walking into Starbucks, turning your phone off, sitting down with your drink and silently screaming “SCREEN OFF!” as you force your mind to observe every last sensory aspect of the moment: the low-level lull of cell phone conversations, a hushed rendezvous in the corner, a shrill group of teenagers jabbing over each other about whose Louis Vuitton clutch is newer while skyping the whole thing from their iPhones, aromatic visions of Columbian Farmers floating through your mind, nervously rubbing the cardboard with your thumb as you contemplate what fair trade really means for them… The possibilities are endless.

    • This response gave me chills both times I’ve read it. Yesterday I did go to Starbucks for the first time in quite a few months- and though I left my phone on, there were moments like you described above when I would look away from the computer I was working on. Fewer moments than I’d like in retrospect, though, so thank you kindly for the inspiration to do it more often.
      The future is going to be interesting. It really is. I was up thinking about it last night in nearly the way you were explaining it above. The way I’m trying to do it now is to see myself as a Samuel Elliot-type cowboy on the wild frontier of technology and hologram-health and whatever else may come up…it may not be familiar, but it can at least be fun so that we can see the crazy benefits of it (like me being able to read your typed letters and get very real chills and sip my coffee as I wake up enough to share this thought with you). So, yes, wow. I feel that your comment sort of jolted me with my own meaning in a cool way that helped me to feel it espresso, which I wish I had. Thank you so much!

      • Wow indeed!!

        I recently suggested to my teenage stepson that goosebumps are what happens when our spirit is unexpectedly stimulated by the electricity of a conscious or subconscious truth; much like the image of our soul bouncing suddenly with a YES!-vibration, so powerfully that our bodies are forced to record the moment on a physiological level.

        I believe in this circumstance, the words I shared were such a deeply accurate reflection of your perception and the heart of what you felt when you decided to write a blog post about it, that your goosebumps were the result of your soul being slapped with the power of your own idea, and the unexpected excitement you experienced to discover a perfectly random stranger riding the EXACT SAME WAVELENGTH that your brainwave created. And yes, between you & travisthetraveler, those moments are pretty much a standard any time I check my reader. Such power and depth in that experience.

        I have actually commented four times now on various posts of yours — all similarly lengthy, thoughtful, and chills-all-over type responses, and each time my phone died before I could click “Post Comment.” It’s been infuriating and tragic but I promise I will sit down soon and re-wrote each response for you. Our perspectives are complete reflections of one another’s, on a fairly regular basis. Beautiful.

        • Oh I love that description of goosebumps!

          Another part of it was that I always have a reusable cup with me when I get coffee, but that cup broke, so yesterday was the second time I’ve felt a real Starbucks cardboard cup- and it was so strange and soft and luxurious, I went off on a lot of musings of how they made it exactly so soft because usually I have my steel one. Talk about wavelength!

          I have also experienced that with the comments not posting- Ugh, so infuriating to me! If you don’t end up rewriting them, I will not mind. I’m sure that their meaning will trickle in to future posts and responses so that nothing is ever lost. πŸ™‚ Plus sometimes it’s really hard to re-create a heartfelt response, at least for me. At least you typed it, sent it out into the universe, and even though it didn’t actually make it though, the words were there and they got expressed..perhaps that was the main point! πŸ™‚

  8. As usual Jennifer, your post twisted my mind around and made me think – something I normally try to avoid. On the bright side, your post was very intriguing. Okay, first off, your game – totally lost me. That however, was not part of the question! Yes, I think technology is not exactly bad, but has evolved crazily to eccentric levels and I believe people that I know and see almost every day are using too much technology! For instance, that Smart Phone. I must be the only person at my university who has not bought one. I mean, in Marketing Comm. class, our teacher asked everyone to drag out their phones – and all but me had Smart Phones. My point; and I actually have one. Technology has evolved so much that now, a phone is not just a phone anymore. You use it for – well, I don’t need to explain, but I just think it’s ridiculous that a device that is meant to be used for communicational purposes is now being used for almost everything but what it was initially programmed for most of the time. In fact, I would go so far to say that if I see anyone walking down the street or in class not using a piece of tech, I find that to be an incredibly rare experience. As for your other question – I think humanity is beginning to rely so frequently on such technology that it will be evolved to further accommodate our communicative needs. That is of course until we run out of room, which will lead to the nuclear holocaust and then to the extinction of 99.9% of the population; however, I’ll look on the bright side – there won’t be any more technology around! Unless the survivors all have Smart Phones…

    • Haha oh wow, the nuclear holocaust. Even if the smartphones made it, they don’t really seem to be built to last. If anything the survivors would probably revert to the fancy phones that actually needed operators.

      It is interesting that so few people use their phones AS phones! They communicate through pictures, letters, status updates, likes, but rarely through actual speaking. It sounds like your university is much like the airport- if someone is not on a device, it is strange!

      And the game isn’t really a “game”, I probably should have explained it more. It’s just a random awareness of whether or not you are looking at a screen, and to notice the feelings and surroundings either which way so as to not ever get fully sucked into screenland without realizing it πŸ™‚ Thanks as always for coming by!

  9. First, I love screen-no-screen. Second, after I read this, I gave in to the powerful urge to shout “No screen!” when I was walking to my car on the top deck of the parking garage at work. It was wonderfully cathartic. πŸ™‚

    Have you read anything about the exhibit “People Staring at Computers?” Here’s a link to the Wired article:
    What struck me about this article, and the whole concept of snapping pictures of people as they interact with their computers is the way everyone staring at the screens loses the humanity of interaction. Their expressions go slack. They appear more like machines than beings. It is chilling. It is a good reason to take the time to note, and possibly extend, our No Screen time.


    • Haha, those are the moments where it is cathartic for me, as well! The times that normally I’d be stressing or thinking about something silly, I’m like, wow! Bigness, sky, trees, these are cool! Dog walks have become more fun.

      I read that article you linked to- wow. I had not heard about that, I will look into it more. It struck me when he said that we are not forgetting there are humans at the other side of the screen, but we are forgetting that there are humans right next to us. That really made me feel a sense of “wow”ness.

      Thank you for pointing me in that direction! Today, I shall pair my awareness of “screen” with a reminder to “make a funny face at the screen!” so that my face doesn’t learn too much slackness. πŸ™‚

      • That article floored me, too – and not only because the artist was brave enough to put on a public exhibit in Apple stores without asking first! After reading it, I became more conscious of myself when I interact with my computers. They should be tools that help me accomplish something, not make me an expressionless automaton. At this moment, writing to you, I am smiling. I would like to believe that means that despite screens and computers, we’re all still capable of authentic human interaction, even if it is action at a distance.


  10. While this little story is not really the point of your message to us … here it is.
    I was taking time to “smell the roses” the other day and while sitting in the park enjoying the freshness of the air and the non-screenness(?) of the day, I saw something rather sad. Mom, Dad and young son strolling by the tourist highlight of the city, all three with their noses glued to their iPhone/iTouch, not seeing a thing around them.
    Why did they come here if not to see the sights, to relax, enjoy the water fountain, the beautiful day? Maybe the screen was more relaxing for them than embracing something new.
    I guess I see my screen as a window, unable to open but a voyeurs way of seeing the world without the stressful interaction. But I still need to take a deep breath once in awhile and step out into the here and now.
    Thank you for the awareness.

    • I so appreciate your story. I apologize that it took me awhile to respond.

      That is exactly the kind of thing I am talking about- and it seems like you are seeing the world very clearly and stepping out of yourself even now, since you noticed them, you know?

      I also love how you said you were enjoying the non-screenness of the day- I try to do that more now, even when I’m just walking the dog or taking out the trash. The sky is still so high and so pretty no matter what you are doing under it. Great story, I’m so happy you came by!

  11. Pingback: Eye Contact, I Contact, iContact: The Clash Of Privacy Ideals « Enjoy Life For Once!

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