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.