Over dinner with a friend recently, while lamenting our always busy lives, we got talking about attention spans and how noticeably bad ours are these days. Not only that, but how little time we allow our brains to switch off, daydream, or do nothing for a while. I’ve recently noticed how unable I am to watch an entire TV programme now without having my iPad or phone in front of me, or how on my train journey I spend the whole 15 minutes checking Twitter, Facebook and email to make sure I get minute-by-minute accounts of what’s happening in the world. In fact, some of the only times during the day that I’m not attached to a screen is when I am walking to and from the station, on an occasional swim, or when asleep. Though, EVEN my sleeping is abutted by smart devices. Before I turn off my light at night, I have one final check of all the usual places, and as soon as my phone alarm wakes me up, I hit snooze, and then the Twitter icon, in one smooth motion. We have, almost without noticing, become completely addicted to always being connected.
And I know it’s not only me. 1 in 8 have a problem apparently…
When I was younger, I used to find nothing more annoying than my mum reading the paper while we were watching the latest episode of ER or X Files for instance. I’d always bug her to PICK ONE THING to do! Now, in our house, we may have the TV on which we claim to be watching, while at the same time I have my iPad on my lap, tweeting or browsing the internet and my phone close at hand in case the need to text comes up. My other half is even worse – he will regularly be watching two things at the same time, whatever is on TV, and also have some form of America sport (Football or Baseball depending on the time of year) on his iPad, while having his MacBook open to write, blog, email, or tweet.
It’s hard to figure out when this all became normal? When did it become okay, for instance, that when my iPhone crashed one afternoon all I could think about was how would anyone know what I was doing, where I was, or get in contact with me for that whole afternoon? Thank god, it sprung back into action after about half an hour, but not before I’d hopped onto someone’s wifi on my iPad and sent a few panicky ‘If you don’t hear from me this is why’ emails. It is all rather worrying.
It’s also why, next week, when I’m in a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere in France (which shhh, unfortunately does have wifi) I will doing my best to go on a screen diet. I am taking PAPER BOOKS, MAGAZINES (even though I have the iPad version too…), play real boardgames (and not the electronic versions) and as Jack Bauer used to say, generally try to ‘GO DARK’ for one week. At a recent digital conference someone said ‘Smartphones have killed daydreaming’ and it struck me as so true. So, while we are constantly ingesting a lot of information from our devices, do we actually take any of it in? And is all this screen addiction killing our imagination?
Don’t get me wrong as you can see, I love it and I’m obsessed with it. I love always knowing what’s going on in the book world, what my friends in New York are up to, seeing a newborn baby appear on Facebook about two hours after it’s born, being able to work from home and generally be more flexible with life. I’ve discovered so many amazing people, videos, books, blog posts, newspaper articles and even cheap holidays on social media, but I am starting to think that occasionally everyone should take a break (but don’t tell anyone I said this!). There is sometimes nothing better in the world, than sitting on a chair in a quiet room, holding a paper book in your hands, and not getting alerts popping up on your device at the same time.
I’ll have to let you know how I get on. (Which will probably be via a TwitPic of a deserted field in France, just so you know I’m REALLY in the middle of nowhere and coping with life away from a screen for a week. Oh, wait…)