Creativity, Screens, & 10 Ways to Reclaim Your Stolen Time
This is the year to take back our time. No one has enough of it, yet it is being taken from us each time we look at our screens - whether television, monitor, laptop, tablet, or phone.
I am starting to feel a little like Frodo when he puts on that ring. When I pick up my phone it is eery how I can just... disappear, and I see other people do it too. I think we can all relate to times when you are in the middle of a conversation, the other person's phone makes a bing-bong sound, they pick it up to take a quick glance - only to get sucked in, and then they are just.. gone. When they pop back to the conversation it is as if coming from a distance or waking up - usually a reminder of the topic you were discussing is necessary. We have all experienced that, and are all probably guilty of it as well.
[Lead photo by the amazing Jillian of The Noisy Plume]
There are 8 main reasons that I am reaching to reclaim my time, and 10 different approaches I am using to make it happen:
Now, to clarify, I am specifically referring here to that aimless browsing and scrolling, when there is no goal of a particular task being accomplished and no particular stop time planned. I of course understand that most of us depend on our electronic devices to get our work done and make necessary communications, but the time spent engaged in those tasks is not what I am getting at here.
Why I am putting away my phone... and all of my other screens.
1. As I mentioned above, screens steal time.
They are designed to. Everyone is clamoring for your eyes, attention, mind, time, and money. The current currency and cache is measured in clicks, likes, follows, and integrated statistics. This is why short-form video is a "thing" now. The competition has intensified and our attention spans have grown shorter. Videos are designed to grab you and suck you in within a matter of seconds because people know that is all they have before you scroll past. And it works. We are all rubberneckers at heart in varying degrees. We can't resist a transformation or a "what will happen" or a "how will it turn out" or a "LOL". Most of us don't enjoy videos, but will still sit there slack-jawed watching them if we happen to glance at one when it begins. This happens to me too - all the time. And I really hate it. I feel the manipulation.
2. I don't like what it does to my perception of time.
When scrolling, surfing, browsing, or whatever it is you do on a screen when not engaged in a specific task related to your life - it is strange how time simply disappears. How many minutes or even hours can pass, while peering into a glowing screen? I sometimes wonder what I would think if I could watch a video of me on my phone or tablet - how often do I even move? How strange would it look to an observer from another time to see someone peering so intently and sitting so still for so long. Do you ever check your screen time statistics? It can be very unsettling. It can even tell you how many times you've picked up your phone. Most of us whine wistfully of having more hours in the day - not less. So why do we keep rubbing a lamp that makes it disappear instead?
3. I don't like what it does to my headspace.
The quiet moments of life where you get to just... be have slowly disappeared as the devices have encroached. Those moments where you notice the afternoon light, maybe a bit of dust floating through a sunbeam coming through the window, noticing the sound of the breeze and feeling it calm you when sitting outside. It is often in these times that we do our best thinking, and replenish ourselves with stillness. The shower is one of the last quiet refuges, though now you can even get waterproof speakers and tablet stands for the bathtub.
4. It is destroying creativity and the lives of artists.
So many artists feel the increasing pressure to produce on a daily basis - or even present their audience with "content" multiple times per day across multiple channels. That is unsustainable for anyone and inevitably leads to burnout. The pressure to produce at that rate and within narrow, specifically prescribed formats is absolutely absurd and, I would argue, very damaging. We are being asked to reduce our creative practice in a contrived presentation and mass produce it. And what for? Our connection to our audience is held in the balance. Produce or they don't see you. Produce ever increasing "quality content" by ever-changing mysterious standards or your work will be buried. Artists from every different media and approach are being forced to translate and present through video, photo carousels, and pithy text captions. All artists are beginning to think in video! Writing must be limited to a series of short paragraphs, if that, and topics translated into hashtags... or wait, does anyone still use those or are we past them now? Art takes time, ideas need space, technique needs practice, not all practice should be public, process should be protected, and every artist needs time to rest. How warped are today's ideas as a result of only being allowed to grow in the same hot house?
5. Screen time is not rejuvenating.
Compare how you feel after having gone for a hike, taken a shower, taken a nap, spent time in the garden, sat on the front step, cleaned the kitchen, spoken to a friend, read a book, or scrolled your phone. Does scrolling really make you feel better than the other pastimes?
It may sound like a conspiracy theory, but it's not. It's in the fine print on the posters on the walls of cell phone shops for anyone to read. Radiation causes cancer. I read warnings in multiple pregnancy books about cell phone use and proximity to the fetus. Don't take my word for it though, do your own research, maintain your skepticism, and make the right decision for your body. Your health is your responsibility.
7. It is possible to be too in touch with some people.
Who do you talk to every day? Likely your significant other if you have one, your children if they still live at home, and your pets of course - in other words, probably your direct household. Even talking to a close friend every day (if you are no longer in school) might seem a bit much. But on social media, we have gotten in the habit of keeping in touch daily - or even more often. The idea of constant contact has not born the scrutiny it should. There is a popular email handling platform of the same name that we opted not to use based on the name alone - no one needs to be in constant contact with their watercolor supplier.
8. Not in touch enough with others.
I've noticed that it can easily happen that I've seen more updates from people I have never met on social media or in the news than from people I actually know. In this way, screen time can rob us of our real life relationships.
So, why do we do it?
- There are many reasons we stay plugged in. We are all so overstimulated and busy. It has become a fast way to short-circuit what is intended to be a mental break, when in reality is just super-charges the inputs. There is nothing relaxing or restful in scrolling a newsfeed.
- Another reason is that we have boarded the hamster-wheel and we fear being launched off into space if we dare to slow down or stop running. Many artists built businesses on social media and are being forced into a frenzy to prevent loss of income as Meta vies for world-domination.
- Social media platforms are competing very intensely with one another and for our attention (which equals money and power for them). Social media is being designed to be as addictive as possible and to make us as dependent as possible on it. If you feel like your phone or certain apps can be kind of addictive, that is a very real thing, and it is by design. It does not mean you have to fall into the trap though.
- Plain and simple FOMO (fear of missing out, for my fellow luddites). Many, many people have made the switch to digital communication - individuals, businesses, news outlets, artists. To put the phone down means fear feeling out of the loop. After all, if you didn't post it on Instagram... did it even happen? (I hope you understand I'm being sarcastic, but this is how many people feel now, even if only subconsciously.)
How To Reclaim Your Time From Your Devices
If you are interested in reclaiming your time (or finally throwing the ring into Mordor), below are the strategies I am using. Each is specifically for the purpose being more present in the current moment or because it gives the feeling of stretching time like good taffy:
1. If the image moves, look away (or quickly scroll past).
Videos steal the most time. It might not seem like much, but 15 seconds here, 30 seconds there, a minute, it all adds up... like a lot. So if something starts to move (when I realize it's a video), I pause it, X out of it, scroll past it. This saves so much time.
2. Keep the sound off.
My phone volume is always down all the way. I do not like my train of thought being interrupted by rings and bings. And I really don't like the cacophony of song snippets the result from scrolling Instagram Reels or Stories. You can always turn up the sound if there is something you want to listen to, but defaulting sounds to off keeps your world a little more peaceful.
3. Turn off notifications and work those customizations.
If you need to leave your ringer on, you can at least minimize interruptions from app notifications and texts. All of that is customizable, but default the the noisiest possible options without your interference.
4. No phone on the pot.
This might be too much information (or TMI as the kids say), but I quit using the phone in the loo after my stroke. Sitting on the toilet is such a human moment, but also one I don't necessarily want to prolong, which is inevitably what happens when you start scrolling your phone. I know some people use the bathroom as an escape of sorts, but consider if that is really where you want to spend extra time. I don't miss it.
3. Shower with the windows open and the lights off (not necessarily at night though.
It's fun to blare some oldies in the showering is an excellent time to be present and quiet. The feel of a light breeze is amplified by wet skin, and hearing the birds chirping outside your window over the sound of the water is a reminder that bathing is a ritual as ancient as anything.
4. Stop taking pictures with your phone.
Or at least reduce how many, and be intentional about when you do, rather than clicking habitually or reflexively. How many life events have you watched through the screen of your phone even though they were happening right in front of you? How much digital clutter are you paying to save in the cloud? Does having so many pictures and videos make it more difficult to view the ones that mean the most? Pre-smartphone, my digital camera broke on my way to climb Mt. Rainier. It was almost a relief that I just got to experience the climb rather than trying to document it.
5. Make a phone call.
Somehow this has become something of a luxury - to talk to a person in real time. There is so much nuance that is missed in text messaging, so much joy, humor, mirth, and meaning that is missed or edited out. Facetime is one of the things I adore about modern technology. To get to see the familiar expressions of a parent or dear friend that live at a distance can be a real balm for the soul. This isn't just staring at a screen - you are staring into the real-time face of a person you care about. Your brain chemistry will react to it differently than a text.
6. Write a letter.
If you are a slow texter like me, your letter may actually reach the recipient at a similar time as a text! If you enjoy trading emails with someone, consider a letter. Typing may be faster (and I know spellcheck can be a real life saver), but it is so much less personal. Much more can be communicated by handwriting, and it is special to receive something that has been touched. The surprise of receiving a letter in the mail also has a real specialness and magic about it, as does composing a letter, using a nice pen to write it, and then there is of course the joy of choosing the right stamp. If you still think it will be too much time, think about how you feel after writing or reading a letter versus emailing.
7. Use the favorites function on Instagram.
Not many people even know this function exists. To favorite an account, click on the Intagram icon at the top left of your home feed, select Favorites from the drop-down menu. This take you to a feed of only the accounts you have favorited. To add a new Favorite, tap the lines and stars icon in the top right of your favorites feed. From there you can search for and add any other account you wish or remove accounts from your favorites. What does this do? It helps quiet the noise. It helps you be intentional with your Instagram use. Instead of mindless scrolling or sifting through the chaos, you can open the app with the intention of checking on those you wish to keep up with.
8. Browse at only an appointed time and use a time limit.
It can be surprising how many times per day we simple browse, and how much time can be spent at each session. It has helped me tremendously to limit idle browsing to once per day and to limit the time. It helps you both focus on what inputs you are allowing in, and reclaim a significant amount of time during the day. If browsing is no longer an option, you mind will naturally shift to whatever is next - you might grab a book, decide to cook a new recipe, your house might get a little cleaner, or you may find you have a moment to write a short thank-you card.
9. Subscribe to real newspapers and magazines.
There are so many upsides to this one change: Less screen time, more control of the sources from which you are drawing information, directly supporting publishers and journalists you trust, time spent turning pages instead of scrolling. Also, have you ever been frustrated (or honestly a little creeped out) when a story changes while you are reading it? That doesn't happen with physical print. There is a frenzy to the modern day 24/7 news cycle that is not just exhausting, but grueling. It is important to stay up-to-date on current events, but you don't need to be harassed by them. They world is not served in any way by "doomscrolling" the news into the wee hours each night. I am researching which publications I would like to receive, and when the decision is made, I will delete my newsfeed app on my phone.
Using a bluetooth earbud and microphone is a great way to keep the phone away from your head. I like the one-ear variety because it allows me to stay attuned to the world around me - hear a knock at the door, my baby cry at the end of nap time, or my husband say something. These devices are inexpensive and freeing. You can be on a phonecall with a friend while doing the dishes, rather than waiting to text later.
These decisions will also help you reclaim your creativity. Often our most creative ideas come to us in the quiet moments, when our minds are at liberty to run. You may be surprised by what tasks you take to when you don't reach for your phone, and how those inspire deeper happiness - and your art.
Also, creating art takes time and mental space. By clearing up a block of minutes here and there, you may find that extra slice of time to paint that you have been longing for.
Most of us never regret time spent creating, whether painting, cooking, in the garden, etc. However, I think most of us know what it is to feel that time has been wasted on a screen.
The more time I spend off my screen, the less I miss it.
What is normal?
By adopting any of these strategies, by "disconnecting", you might feel that you are going against the grain, or doing something that isn't normal. What what is normal anyway? Seriously. The way many of us live today, and what is considered "normal", would be considered completely strange and fantastical by the standards of most of human history, or even a sizable portion of today's current world population.
You get to define what normal is - or should be - in your life.
We can so easily spend time doing things that do not make us happy or healthy, despite tremendous opportunity to do otherwise. I do not think it is because we are bad or stupid, no. We are all fighting to survive in various ways, fighting against the constructs that we were born into, and fighting against our minds being harvested by big business.
Our minds and our time are precious, and time is one of the few things that cannot be fabricated or purchased as a commodity. Are what we are doing with them making us happy?
I would very much like to know if you have any strategies on how to protect your time, or what recommendations you have for real newspapers or magazines!