Media Blackout

Drink:  Canadian Club Classic

This past February my wife and I decided to “fast” from certain forms of media for a week.  No Facebook, movies, TV or video games (including on our iPods).  We hit a point where we realized that these forms of entertainment and social media were consuming far larger quantities of time than they should have been.  We were neglecting certain responsibilities, spending little time connecting with each other, becoming less concerned with the growing messes around the house.

Our default for the end of the day had become the TV.  While Good Eats and Downton Abbey are great shows, spending our limited, evening, the-kids-are-finally-asleep time learning two or more meals a night we’re unlikely to ever cook, or watching early twentieth century events affect the fictional staff of an English manor, seems irresponsible.  And if we aren’t doing that, we’re checking Facebook for the latest real-time status updates or writing emails that simply can’t wait (no, seriously, I have to do this now!).  

So we decided to put up a temporary barrier.  A boundary.  A guardrail.

For one whole week, Facebook, TV, movies, and video games (I play the GTA franchise almost exclusively and together we play Behemoth releases; first Castle Crashers and now Battleblock Theater), had no place in our home.  It’s not like we put our TV in the garage for the week, we just left it off.  We had a penciled in plan for what to do with all of the time that was now free to spend on other things, but nothing concrete.  We just knew that these forms of media were sucking the lives out of our relationships with each other, with our family, and with our friends, because we let them.

My wife and I are typically enablers of each other.  If one of us is stays up too late, we both do.  If one of us is eating way too much dessert, we both are.  If one of us doesn’t feel like walking the twenty feet to the car to get that thing we left inside it, that thing stays there until the next time we go out or until we absolutely need it.  So it was imperative that we both resolve to see this media fast through lest we both give in and render it ineffective.  Fortunately, our ability to enable is outmatched by our ability to spur each other on through difficult challenges (at least when we’re determined to do so).

And with this, we were determined.

The first day was the most difficult as we both didn’t know what to do.  Our defaults weren’t an option and we had never really established secondaries.  We made it through doing something trivial just to help pass the gobs of extra time we had.  Conversation, I think.  Or maybe it was a board game we feigned enjoyment through.  Anything to deal with the sheer boredom.

That, of course, is sarcasm (just in case you thought we really feigned enjoyment).  It was difficult to determine a good use of our time, but it was thoroughly refreshing to have our evening back.  We talked.  I mean we really talked, like we hadn’t done in a while.  We did play a game, which we really did enjoy.  We laughed so much more, and not at some scripted line an actor delivered, but at the jokes and fun of our own making.  We enjoyed some private marital activities as well.  And when we thought we’d had enough fun and perhaps we should be responsible and get to bed, we did.  And it was only 8:45!  A new family record!  And we were happy about it.

It was relaxing.  After a normal night in our house spent glued to a screen we would wonder where the time had gone.  How can three hours just disappear?  How?!?  But after the evenings during our media fast, not only did we know where the time had gone, but we had spent it on worthwhile activities.  Intentionally.  Dishes were done, toys were put away, and the kitchen was reset to zero.  We had time for each other.  All of the day’s events we found worthy or necessary to share, instead of becoming a mental backlog (because finding out what happens to John Bates is clearly more important right now), were brought out into the open to be processed.  We connected and were able to go to bed unstressed.  And, to top it off, we didn’t spend an additional hour in bed on our iPods playing more games or just perusing the internet (me refreshing my favorite whiskey blogs to see if, just maybe, the author posted in the last five minutes).  We actually got a good night’s sleep.

As the benefits of our media fast were piling up, and there were no downsides in sight, I began to wonder if returning to our previous lifestyle at week’s end was even in question.  Maybe we should just leave the TV shut off for good.

We didn’t, of course.  Downton Abbey resumed, Good Eats taught us more about barley, and Facebook was just as disinteresting and addictive as ever.

But as Lent approached and the subject of fasting and “giving up” various vices and white addictions (you know, like white lies; they don’t seem so bad) arose, we began to wonder if we should reinstate that temporary boundary and fast from media again.

Forty days is a long time to go without something you’re used to (in my case, desserts).  We weren’t convinced that was the best course of action.  But we knew that a boundary had to be set up or we would allow media to consume our family and we were firmly set against that.  We don’t think TV is evil or that Facebook will rot your brain (though it does plenty with your personal information).  We just didn’t want to look back in fifty years and think, “My gosh, why did we waste all that time?”  Because no one on their death bed says, “I really should’ve spent more time on Facebook,” or watching TV, or you  name it.

So, after determining our need for this media boundary once again, we decided that for one week (Monday through Sunday) every month for the rest of the year, and perhaps for a very long time after that, we were going to do what we’re calling our Media Blackout.  

This is that week.

Before we logged off of Facebook for the week we changed our banners to something my very talented wife designed.  It was an image of an unplugged electrical cord and text letting our “friends” know, in brief terms, that we were off for the week.  We also changed our profile pictures to match the theme.

The other thing we did before we logged off, which I will do with you now, was to encourage our friends and family to join us for the week.  So here it is:

I encourage you to put down the forms of media that you spend most of your time with.  Movies.  TV.  Social media.  Texting even.  You know yours best.  But don’t simply put them down for the week.  In their place, pick up things that are important that perhaps you’ve forgotten or neglected.  Spend some quality time with your significant other, your friends, your family, even your pets (but mostly other humans, please).  Just be together.  Talk.  Play a board game.  Go for a walk.  You decide.  The ultimate guiding principal to this exercise is to remove the distractions for a week of relationship building and self reflection.  One week.  You can do it.

If you do, I’d like to know how it went and what you learned about yourself.

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