Why we could all do with a long weekend away from our devices

Photo and graphics: author

I dream of three days without beeps and flashes. Three days without scrolling. Three days without picking up a glowing rectangle.

Just as a normal public holiday (or bank holiday) gives us time off from work, I propose a screen holiday to claim time off from our devices.

Why?

Reducing screen time benefits our sleep, our posture and our attention spans. There are also positive effects on our family relationships and social lives, allowing us to focus more on the people around us.

What’s this got to do with sustainability?

Anything that improves our health and wellbeing is sustainable. Remember that sustainability is not just about the environment, but the social and economic aspects. If we all can spend less time on our devices then we could all be healthier.

There are also secondary benefits. We can spend more time in, and engaging with, the environment. We can focus on noticing things and stop our interactions with the world from being surface-level only. We can be of the world, instead of just passing through it.

What does it entail?

Just as a public holiday gives us an extra day off work, a screen holiday gives us a break from our phones and other devices. This public holiday weekend is a good time to anchor such an experiment: a time, not too long, when not too many people are trying to get in touch with us.

And who knows? If the screen holiday weekend works out for us, maybe we’ll be inspired to try a screen holiday week?

How do we do it?

I don’t advocate a complete removal of our phones, but an end to non-essential use. I plan to keep my phone on me in case I need to make an emergency call.

What I suggest is an end to the casual use: the scroll, the pick-up during quiet moments. Some suggestions on how to make this work:

  1. Carry other distractions. If we’re in the habit of picking up our phones as a distraction in quiet moments, we should carry something else that can serve that purpose, say a book or a magazine, a sketchbook or a pocket notebook. Otherwise, make a habit of noticing our surroundings, stretching, or grabbing a moment of reflection.
  2. Turn-off notifications. The extreme example is to turn off all notifications, particularly for the evilest of apps, but I find the easiest thing is to switch on do not disturb. For peace of mind, we can change our settings to make exceptions for family or close friends, so they can still reach us in an emergency.
  3. Tell people. Tell people what we’re doing. Not in a “big announcement to all our social media feeds” way, but letting those who will care that we’ll be quiet for a bit.

Finally, I suggest we start our screen holiday on Friday night, as soon as we finish work. That’s when most of us consider the holiday starts, right? No putting it off until Saturday morning, because there’s always the risk that we’ll put it off further still.