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!