GeekDad UnWired: Screenless

Geek Culture

GeekMom multitasks on her screen-free day. Photo: Jonathan LiuGeekMom multitasks on her screen-free day. Photo: Jonathan Liu

GeekMom multitasks on her screen-free day. Photo: Jonathan Liu

How many screens do you look at in a day? Computers (at work and home), television, smartphone, laptop, GPS … as screens get smaller and cheaper, we accumulate more and more of them. What used to be a completely non-digital experience—reading—can now be done without ever handling actual paper.

The Onion reported in June: “90% of Waking Hours Spent Staring At Glowing Rectangles.” I’m sure I’m not the only one who felt their humor hit a little too close to home.

So, in honor of GeekDad UnWired Week, I present two tales of ditching the screen.

From Dan Epp, an editor of our local newspaper, in the July 15, 2009, edition of The Greeley County Republican:

I’m old enough to remember life before TV. I got to thinking about it this weekend when we lost reception on a newly installed satellite dish. It’s so easy to sit down after work and turn on the TV. Sometimes there is something that I really want to watch, but most times I just find the most inoffensive channel. It’s easy and it fills the time.

But then it wasn’t there. It was a cold turkey withdrawal from an addiction. Now what do I do? What did I do before TV? And then the memories started coming back. I read more, listened to more music, tinkered more, played more games, spent more time talking with other people.

Now what do I prefer—reality shows or reality, watching talking heads yelling at each other or talking with family and friends, watching a PGA golf tournament or playing a few holes at the local golf course?

It’s not even close, life was better before TV, but it’s such a wonderful invention. So do I get rid of it, or can one control the addiction?

And my wife wrote this about her recent experiment going screen-free for a day:

Yesterday, from the time I woke until I finally laid down to sleep, I did not look at a screen. This was 100% deliberate and extremely unusual.

I am a physician in an office that uses electronic health records, so five days a week I spend most of my workday in front of my Asus netbook, typing into patients’ charts as I visit with them and demonstrating helpful Internet tools like or In between visits I catch up on documentation and the latest health care-related news or work on one of a few research projects I have going with our state medical school. When I’m home after work I read and respond to personal e-mails, catch up with a friend or two on Google Chat, and skim the headlines of my favorite blogs. If I overslept and missed my early morning run, I’ll catch some exercise with the Wii Fit or the Xbox program Yourself!Fitness, since the afternoons are too blazing hot around here. If I go out for the evening, I have a Palm Treo with a data plan that allows me to update my Facebook status with my current adventure and make sure I don’t miss any e-mails. My husband reads different blogs than I do, so inevitably after the kids are in bed we spend some time sharing the fascinating stuff we’ve each seen that day, or I’ll proofread his latest GeekDad post. If there’s not too much housework, we’ll relax with a downloaded episode of “Chuck” or “30 Rock.” To really splurge, we’ll watch a feature-length movie.

It slowly began to dawn on me that I spend almost no time without one screen or another, and that this might be a problem. One clue: I love to sew and quilt, but I hadn’t touched any of my projects for almost a year. Another: I found myself almost daily telling my daughters “Just a minute, Mommy needs to finish this e-mail,” and then thinking to myself, “What have you been doing ALL DAY?” The clincher came in Stephen King’s Entertainment Weekly column: He was talking only about himself, of course, but listed some questions that might indicate a screen addiction problem. After reading it I decided to go screen-free for one entire Sunday.

It wasn’t that hard. I wondered what e-mails might be waiting for me on Monday but I knew, honestly, that there wouldn’t be that many. My Facebook friends probably didn’t miss me, although there were a few great links to follow up on today. I got my quilting project out and although I continued to multi-task (see photo) I had no screen guilt. I think I might do this every Sunday.

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