The digital age has propelled all of us into lives surrounded by digital media and technology, to where now it is difficult for many of us to control the amount of time we are spending in front of the various screens in our homes. The majority of people that you know use their computers and the Internet for social networking, to read news, to watch television shows and YouTube®, to create and share photos and film clips, to shop…and on and on and on. Many of us can even add “work” the list – both my husband and I rely on the Internet to make a living. Most people have a digital cable package, go to the movies, use a DVR, and now many also watch Hulu and Netflix. Just think how much more media you consume today versus 15 years ago. Considering there are so many options in digital media and entertainment these days, it may be hard for us to notice that this may actually be hurting us. We may be losing touch with what it means to be human, to interact with other people and living things, to take notice of the natural beauty of the world around us.
One sunny afternoon a few months ago, I watched my husband plant tomatoes with my children. They enjoyed getting completely filthy in the dirt and spraying everything down with water. I thought to myself, “This is what life should be about.” I’ve been spending lots of time in front of my computer lately – mostly work, but let’s admit it, also Facebook and Netflix – yet, in that moment I realized that I’m getting too wrapped up in the digital world, versus becoming a more meaningful player in our true world. That night I spoke with my sister-in-law, and she joyfully explained how she’s been leaving the computer off at night ever since the kid’s started Waldorf school, which discourages media exposure for young children. I decided it was time to take a media break!
What a great concept: taking some time off from consuming media, from zoning out into the screen, from distracting the senses and the mind. You don’t have to be a Facebook addict to benefit from taking a media break. You just have to be open-minded to the idea and realize that the trade-off can be quite rewarding and fun.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all about pursuing a life that technology has enabled me to live and benefiting from innovation. Thanks to the Internet and computers, I work from home where I can be close to my children. Websites such as WakingTimes.com allow us to share knowledge and information in an amazingly effective way. I’m always using Wikipedia, Google and YouTube with my kids, for learning and looking up fun facts. Facebook allows me to keep up with family and friends around the world. But let’s admit it; there needs to be a balance.
More importantly than ever, the younger generations will need to be protected at a certain level from the overwhelming ease with which they can be surrounded by multimedia in their daily lives. Computers. TV. iPad apps. Smartphones. (The 3rds graders at my daughter’s school have smartphones, for crying out loud!) There have been numerous studies of the effects that media has on kids and there are all types of recommendations for limiting media exposure for kids. But before we put the attention on limiting media consumption for others, the best place to start is with yourself.
Now I’m no psychiatrist or doctor. I’m not even a counselor. I’ve decided to write down the following list of suggestions just to share what has worked for me and my family over the last few months, as we seek to find better balance in our media-rich lives.
Take a Day Off – This may seem unrealistic for many of us that work on the Internet and have daily responsibilities in checking customer emails or updating a website. BUT do you give yourself time off from media? Perhaps a day off from watching TV. Or a day that you don’t touch the computer at home. Turning off the phone is also sometimes nice. Can you dedicate a day or two a month to take a complete break from media? Reading a book, painting a picture, planting a garden, playing with your children, camping with friends, hiking a trail, having a picnic. Media distracts us from enjoying these things in the present moment. So try to take a day off once in a while.
Pick a Hobby – What do you like to do? Do you garden, cook, sew, rebuild cars… or is surfing the web your hobby? Perhaps these days it seems like it. If you have a hobby that you enjoy – or enjoyed – and haven’t done it much lately, get back to it. Dedicate an afternoon or morning and go for it. If you don’t even know what you’d enjoy, then use the Internet to do some research, and then turn it off and try it.
Take a Class – Have you ever tried salsa dancing? Or learned another language? What are you waiting for! In most towns, there are all kinds of classes and continuing education programs, in community colleges, libraries, civic centers, etc. If you have kids, you’re probably pretty aware of this option and are already running around dropping the kiddos off at gymnastics, music class, young thespians, and so forth. But guess what – there are classes for adults too! You may not know it yet, but you might be pretty good at salsa dancing. You’ll never know until you try.
Exercise – Yup, I said it. But then you knew I would. Pretty much everyone you ask will agree that exercise is good for you. If you don’t exercise regularly, try some different things to see what you like. Perhaps join a local sports team. Take a martial arts, Zumba® or Yoga class. If you like flying solo try disc golf or riding a bike. Even a long walk or hike makes for good exercise. There are so many wonderful parks in most cities, go check them out. Exercise is doubly important, as it will give you the energy to do much more than sit in front of a screen. Exercise is good. There’s no way around it. (Try not to cheat on this one…so, no Wii Sports. Not until you’ve found your media balance. But hey, you can double up on the previous point, and take an exercise class.)
Be Kind – Two simple words but a task that may be harder – or take more effort – than you think. It’s one thing to be nice to others, but to be kind means to take action for the sake of another living being. Being kind could be something as simple as helping your neighbor with their groceries, or cooking a meal for a sick friend, and it could mean a bigger commitment of volunteering your time for others less fortunate. Kindness towards Mother Earth counts, as well as acts of kindness towards animals and plants. You can also practice kindness towards your family in lieu of watching a TV show or playing a video game. Here the possibilities are endless…just follow your heart.
Technology, the Internet, mobile computing, digital media, streaming video – all of these things are here to stay. I’m all for embracing the information age for what it is, but a balance must be found. You can’t just let yourself get sucked into it without once in a while taking a step back – away from the PC, away from the Internet, away from the TV – and stopping to appreciate the everyday aspects of life that have made life rich for the many generations that have come before us. So next time the power goes out, or the Internet is slow, or bad weather is affecting your satellite TV reception, look at it as a sign from the universe to stop, turn it all off, and take a media break.
Read more articles by Anna Hunt.
About the Author
Anna Hunt is writer, yoga instructor, mother of three, and lover of healthy food. She’s the founder of Awareness Junkie, an online community paving the way for better health and personal transformation. She’s also the co-editor at Waking Times, where she writes about optimal health and wellness. Anna spent 6 years in Costa Rica as a teacher of Hatha and therapeutic yoga. She now teaches at Asheville Yoga Center and is pursuing her Yoga Therapy certification. During her free time, you’ll find her on the mat or in the kitchen, creating new kid-friendly superfood recipes.
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