Step Away From the Screen

My head aches.

I’m happy to say this isn’t a common occurrence. I’m downright pleased to say that I even know the source of my misery: two straight weeks, now, of glueing my face to a monitor. Blame it on my job, sure, but also on me — my sudden addiction to every kind of screen, and the mental exhaustion I’m usually saddled with whenever 5pm rolls around and sends me out the door.

This isn’t a new problem. I’d call it an old routine, in fact, that plays out a little like this:

1. Get home from work and fire up the laptop.

2. Cook dinner in a hurry, one eye on my plate and the other on my screen.

3. Plop down in bed with the keyboard at my fingertips, social media sites loaded and ready to go.

Sound familiar? Sound kind of sad?

Mix and match your own screens, here — the TV in most households tends to pop on purely by instinct — but the overall point is still the same: we need to step back from the screens. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the routine above is by far the norm for so much of the modern world, especially when our idea of entertainment — our idea of relaxation — continues to shift into the cloud.

We need to take a good, long look at what we’re doing, now, with our limited free time, and we need to change it.

But most importantly? We need to slow down.

The Problem With Plugging In

Let’s be clear: I love technology. This blog wouldn’t be possible without it, and my secret affair with Spotify is far too scandalous a relationship to ever break into the public sphere. There’s a certain reluctance, though, to this tech affection, and I’ve come to realize it’s a reflection on what we lose — on every aspect of life that inevitably falls by the wayside when we spend every waking hour with our eyes glued to our screens.

I come home from work, now, and immediately plug in. Two hours in, I’ll catch myself scrolling listlessly through comment threads, sometimes with a plate full of food steaming in front of me. Four hours in, I might find myself staring intently at my screen and rearranging pixels, the pillow at my elbow beckoning me to shut the damn laptop down and go to sleep.

That’s the truth of it. Technology allows us to do incredible, remarkable things, but it also lets us do this: waste time. Your particular vice might be social media sites, celebrity gossip, or health and nutrition blogs (guilty!), but the idea here is still the same: you need to step back, breathe, and remind yourself that there’s an entire world outside the screen.

We’re a time-starved nation, all of us, and I’m starting to fully understand why. It’s easy to lose minutes — let alone hours — when you’re skimming your social media networks, and it’s even easier to not realize it until it’s much too late.

Until, in other words, you power down the laptop or TV late at night and wonder where your evening disappeared. Until, in other words, you see your entire family bent over their cellphones, and wonder when you all stopped interacting with each other instead of the screens.

Until, in other words, you pass an entire meal in silence, eyes fixed firmly on the latest doom and gloom in the news.

Step away from the screen.

The Secret to Slowing Down

When you finish this article, close your laptop. Power down your monitor, if you can, and do something you don’t always feel like you have enough time to do: read a book. Go bask in the sunshine, go paint a small picture, go play a board game with your kids — just take an active step, now, to realize a few things:

1. Screens, for all their benefits, are pulling our attention away from where it really belongs: our lives.

2. Changing that fact, as it turns out, isn’t any enormously complicated task.

Step away from the screen.

Take a digital sabbatical for a weekend, if you like, or opt for the bite-sized approach. Turn off all of your electronics for just an hour or two and pay extra attention to every little detail you haven’t noticed before: the steam curling up from your coffee, the sweetness of your favorite fruit, and the sound of a rainstorm enveloping your house.

This isn’t some huge revolution. This doesn’t have to be just a good idea — one of those nifty concepts you read about online but never actually implement into your life.

Step away from the screen.

You can go back to it later. You might even have to, if your work heavily depends on it (guilty!), but that’s all the more reason in the world to give yourself some space to breathe.

Step away from the screen, for your benefit, and remind yourself just how much slower — how much fuller — your hours feel without it.

That’s the key to slowing down. Doesn’t take much, does it?

If you’ll excuse me, I think I’m going to take my own advice. My head still aches, see, and I’ve been meaning to remind myself of what a book feels like when it’s not a collection of tiny pixels peering out from my screen. I’ll see you on Thursday!


  1. Matthew says:

    I got into a discussion this weekend about the Kindle … Suffice it to say that I want books to remain the place that I can escape from the screen.
    Thanks, Matt. Enjoyed it.

  2. Megyn @ Minimalist Mommi says:

    Yep, absolutely true! I often find that I spend a lot of time on the web (blogs, FaceBook, & e-mail) because I don’t want to deal with my reality. I’m starting to learn to live with what life has handed me (in this case two kiddos), but I still have a lot of work to do…so I avoid work, and check FB. I also find that FB or blog commenting may be my only adult social interaction of the day; thus why I allow myself to do it! I’m trying to turn to texting for that instead (still technology, but more personal…and we don’t have a lot of minutes). I also find that I LOVE having music on through Pandora, but when that’s on, I keep sneakily checking email or FB. I think I just have to learn to set a timer and actually stick to it. Thanks for the kick in the butt I needed :)

  3. mark says:

    I just put 3NL on my kindle (along w/my other favorite 7-8 blogs), so I can read it with a kind of half-screen. The Kindle affords a kind of reading screenlessness; this is hard for a teacher of letters to say. I think old paperbacks–oh, and hardcovers–are sexy. They are also a good place to go. But there something new and special to the movement of new typography and non LCD tyrannical vertical reading.

    Best, Matt.

  4. Traci says:

    I totally get this. I have books that I want to read but I can never find the time because I’m always on my computer. Time to turn off my computer.

  5. Chris Harris says:

    I can identify with so much what is written in this post.

    Over a decade of being in IT has put me on some kind of OCD loop where I go straight from a long day a work in front of a computer to a long night on the computer at home.

    It has been a rocky road breaking myself of the habit of always being plugged in.

  6. Inna says:

    When I feel like I’m spending too much time at the computer (and tv when I still had it), I’d go read for a while for entertainment instead, then move on to other stuff without heading back to the screen. The problem with being on the computer too long is I’ll think “well what else is there to do anyways,” hence the reading is a good solution to that.

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