I wasn’t allowed to watch TV when I was a child. I’m 46, and growing up, I remember when all the kids were talking about Happy Days, I had to just sit and listen or try to fake some knowledge of the show I didn’t have.
I thought my parents were crazy and mean for not allowing me to watch TV like all the other kids. Sure, I’d sneak sometimes and watch stuff like HR Puffinstuff on Saturday mornings when my parents were still asleep – I even remember trying to convince my parents that having watched Mass For Shut Ins on Sunday morning (without permission) meant that I shouldn’t have to go to mass. In general, my only hope of getting pop culture was to watch shows at a friend’s house.
As a result, I was forced to entertain myself in ways my children have never needed to. Quirky, huh?
Nowadays, media exposure is more diverse and insidious. We have smartphones and iPads and computers and Wii and Xbox and Nintendo. Even TV is more diverse with all the cable offerings. Can you imagine telling your kids (and yourself) that no devices will be on for hours at a time? What would we do? What would our kids do?
Media is easy and passive and habit forming. As a culture, we now struggle with free time if some media option isn’t accessible. Think about the last time you didn’t check your phone for hours, didn’t turn on a TV or computer or iPad and instead read a book or took a walk or talked to a friend in person.
I am as addicted to technology as the next guy – maybe more so. I check my phone constantly, not wanting to miss a text from a friend or wanting to check my email, and at times, I find myself doing so while my kids are trying to tell me about their day at school. Not good.
I have tried at times to limit technology for myself by putting my phone on silent (not even vibrate) and turning off the computer (TV holds little interest for me – a positive legacy of my childhood, I’m sure), but find myself oddly at sea. I like to do crossword puzzles, and I go through phases where I enjoy reading, but most of the time I fill my time writing (on the computer – does it count as ‘disconnected’ time?) or cooking when I need to fill the empty space.
When I’m cooking, I often let my mind wander and consider things I wouldn’t normally think about. With unstructured, non-media-inundated time, I’m stuck with my own thoughts and feelings. It’s harder to shut out the nagging worries or demons that invade my space. I get quiet. I get reflective. I get somber. I get introspective.
This week, I was making Italian sausage, spinach and ricotta stuffed shells for our “friends for dinner” Wednesday meal and was quietly overwhelmed with an unresolved issue that needed attention, but I was afraid to think it through. I was stewing and brooding when I realized quite suddenly that I needed a vegetarian option for my daughter and had to rethink the recipe to ensure that some of the filling was meatless but still robust.
What a welcome diversion! Having to doctor the recipe and improvise forced me out of my solitary internal monologue and back into the world at hand. The return to the greater world gave me perspective, and I welcomed the shift in focus. When I had the fillings made and was mindlessly stuffing the shells, I returned to my sticky, messy thoughts and found that I didn’t have to be quite so afraid. I felt somehow that I could handle the difficult conversation that needed to take place and perhaps having to improvise the recipe on the fly helped me see that I am more capable than I give myself credit for. I wish that diversions always refocused me!
Sometimes after a welcome side trip back to reality, when I return to my thoughts, I find myself still a bit lost and overwhelmed; at those times, breaking away from the quiet internal space is difficult. These times are the most challenging and perhaps the most important.
I have begun to wonder if the frenetic life I choose to lead – and at times, my compulsive need to remain connected to my devices and media – is a way to push aside the inner world of thoughts and fill me up, distract me with something else. I wonder, if I disconnected more often and spent more time in quiet thought, would it get easier to be content there? Would get easier to manage my worries and demons by encouraging them to wander my mind rather than pushing them aside with distractions?
I want to be connected to my friends and children, and I am beginning to realize that the connection I have with my devices and media is interfering. Not in the way you think, by replacing quality time with them with compulsive email checking, but rather by not allowing myself the work and joy of really exploring my own thoughts and feelings to be a richer, truer, more complete person in my relationships.
Food for thought while I cook today – it’s taco night!