Screen Holiday

Why we all need a long weekend away from our devices

Photo and graphics: author

August 2022: Two summers ago, I wrote about the concept of using a public holiday to take a break from our screens. It’s an idea I’ve lost sight of during recent holidays, but I’ve just deleted social media apps from my phone (which I’ll write more about later). With luck, this will make the coming holiday a little easier to be screen-free.

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 celebrating a screen holiday to claim time off from our devices.

Why?

Reducing screen time benefits our sleepour 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 we love.

What’s this got to do with sustainability?

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

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

What does it entail?

Just as a public holiday gives us time off from work, a screen holiday gives us a break from our phones and other devices. This coming public holiday weekend (Summer Bank Holiday in England and Wales) is a good place in which 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 is successful, 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, take a photo, or check the weather.

What I suggest is an end to casual use: the aimless scroll, the pick-up during moments of boredom. 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. An extreme example would be to turn off all notifications, particularly for the most distracting 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.

August 2022: I’ve actually changed my mind about this last bit of advice. I’ve come to think we don’t owe anyone an explanation if we seek to change our communication habits, especially if we’re doing it for reasons of self-improvement. Most messages we receive can wait. If anyone can’t understand or support that, then there’s a deeper question we need to ask about that relationship.

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.


This post originally appeared in Rethink Convenience on Medium.

Not Getting Stressed

It’s okay to be late

An image of an empty open suitcase on a rug. The suitcase lining is light grey. The dark grey exterior of the suitcase is just visible.
Photo: author

We were getting ready to visit my parents and it was taking forever to get everything ready and for us to get out of the door. Temperatures were flaring, words were being said.  The dog was getting more and more wound-up and the baby more and more confused. it’s regatta week in Salcombe and there is a risk that some or all of the events we want to attend will be missed.

I know I shouldn’t get stressed when things take longer to do because of the dog or the baby, or when it takes us forever to get out of the house. I know this, but in the heat of the moment – when it seems like you’re the only one who cares about a looming deadline – it’s hard to remember.

I’ve always hated being late for things.

This is my life now and I accept it willingly, but again, the heat of the moment. I have this theory that the amount of time it takes for us get ready increases disproportionately with the number of people in the house. Like when we went from 1 to 2 people, departure started taking more than twice as long. We’re now four counting the dog. We’re screwed if we add another child or dog

In these situations, here are some things that I find help.

Breathe.

Consider what is in your control, and what isn’t. Have you taken care of the things that are within your control as best you can? Then the rest, logically, is outside your control, and no amount of stress will change anything about them.

Think about those things you didn’t execute well; is it worth wasting energy getting angry about what happened, or do we learn the lesson for next time and move on? The same approach applies to something you could have influenced but didn’t: learn and move on.

An example: you could have told your partner what time you would need to leave to make the “important thing”. You didn’t. That’s your mistake, but there is nothing to be gained from being short or blaming others. Move on.

Remember that the events outside of your control are not often intentional and they are very rarely malicious. There is no conspiracy here, so stop thinking the world is against you.

Finally, consider that the events happening right now are the important ones. What are you missing whilst you’re fixating on that point in the future? Quality time with a baby girl who is changing every day? A beautiful sunset? A new song on the radio that might introduce you to a new band or artist? Five minutes of calm?

Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans

John Lennon

Or, indeed, while you’re stressed about your plans not working out.

As it happens, we were so late to my parents we missed all the things we might have rushed for: the beer festival, the street party, the Euro 2022 final, a beer with my dad. But I don’t focus on that. I focus on the quality time spent with my daughter whilst mum ran into the supermarket, the lunch we were able to enjoy, the family dog walk around my home town.

Be present, and stop stressing your life away.