Screens gobble up more than 10 hours of our day, everyday, on average
Electronic devices mess with our sleep and vision and keep us from being aware of those around us
Editor’s Note: This essay is part of a column called The Wisdom Project by David Allan, editorial director of CNN Health and Wellness. The series is on applying to one’s life the wisdom and philosophy found everywhere, from ancient texts to pop culture. You can follow David at @davidgallan. Don’t miss another Wisdom Project column; subscribe here.
In terms of security, you can debate the effectiveness of the new electronics ban, now enforced on select international flights.
But the impact this restriction could have on your mental well-being is less in doubt. In fact, it’s probably exactly the kind of peace of mind you need. (At the very least it may cancel out any fear you have about what prompted an electronics ban in the first place.)
Most airline passengers will be unaffected by the ban, because it covers a limited number of airlines out of a small number of countries. But even if you aren’t forced to stow away your laptop or tablet in your checked luggage, you may want to anyway.
A device-free hiatus is a gift. Screens gobble up, by recent estimates, more than 10 hours of our day, every day, on average. There is also evidence suggesting we are addicted to our screens. Even if it only feels that way, we could all use a detox.
All that screen staring messes with our sleep and vision, and most critically, keeps us from being aware of those around us. And I bet a certain former secretary of state wishes she’d been unable to send so many emails during long-haul flights back to the United States. But seriously, how many hours a day do you give your family the same level of focused attention you give to illuminated glass and plastic?
If your attachment to your device is so strong that even the thought of an electronics ban on your next flight causes you angst, that may be the first sign you should consider weaning. Go cold turkey every once in awhile, if only to prove to yourself you are capable.
Party like it’s 1990
You may be old enough to recall when you were last freed of the tyranny of devices on airplanes, and everywhere else. Bill Clinton was the US president. You got your news from newspapers or radio or television instead of social and news websites. You rented movies from a physical store. Something was called a Furby.
It wasn’t so bad, was it? So why all this outrage over enduring a long flight without working, playing video games or watching from a longer list of movies and shows than what’s available on the headrest of the seat 2 feet in front of you?
The comedian and latter-day Alexis de Tocqueville, Louis CK, has a great observation about the “spoiled idiots” we’ve become with our sense of entitlement over new technology at our fingertips. Our annoyance when we can’t access it, he bitingly points out, is ridiculously unjustified.
Instead of lamenting loss of hours on a laptop on a plane, maybe we should be mourning the absence of so many screens in our daily life.
Until recently I lived in New York for 12 years and one of the things I miss most is my commute. My cramped and often delayed subway travels (sound familiar airline comrades?) were underground and cut off from email, texts and listening to others on the phone.
During my crowded “alone time” I read thick biographies, favorite authors and a fair number of mediocre parenting books.
Remember books? They still print them and you can still read them on planes. Same with newspapers. Dig into a great novel. Or a stack of magazines that have been gathering dust on your nightstand. Or print a couple of Wisdom Project columns. Or order a scientific study that proves reading will help you live longer.
Consider putting pen or pencil to paper. Adult coloring books reduce stress, according to the titles of the coloring books themselves. Work on your rap lyrics. Write letters to old, dear friends, or to yourself in the future. Draw concepts for your own adult coloring book before that trend bottom outs. Start a journal, which is also good for your mental health.
Consider talking to the person next to you. I know, I know – what if you get stuck talking to someone whose politics differ from yours, or, worse, who is excruciatingly less interesting than you? But, alternatively, what if your seat neighbor is your new best friend, or future business partner or soul mate? You won’t know unless you meet them.
Or just enjoy the quiet. What a marvelous retreat from whatever loud, bustling major city you probably live in. Maybe you’ll relax so much you’ll take a rejuvenating nap. We’re all so chronically underslept that this may be the greatest gift of all from your imposed, or self-imposed, device freedom.
If none of that sounds appetizing, than indulge in classic movies. On one of the Emirates flights (an airline on the list), between Dubai and New York, you can watch “Kill Bill” Vol. 1 & 2, “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” “A Fish Called Wanda,” “First Blood,” “The Sound of Music” and “Casablanca.” That’s more than 14 hours of cinematic greatness for a flight time of under 14 hours.
And failing all that, no one is banning cellphones on flights (unless it’s one of those self-destruct models developed by Samsung). Load up on podcasts, new music, or play Angry Word Crush, I think its called, or other such games, or watch TV shows and your favorite films on the small screen.
Parents, the Pope and The New York Times all agree
Parents may be dreading the electronics ban the most, but parents are also most keenly aware of the double-edged sword of screens. Yes, bubble gum keeps the muscles in your mouth occupied, but it’s often devoid of nutrients. Airplane rides with kids are opportunities to read and play tactile games.
Pope Francis, arguably as wise as Louis CK, penned an encyclical letter a couple of years ago addressing this point. “When media and the digital world become omnipresent, their influence can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously,” he wrote.
Other hallowed institutions agree. The New York Times’ Opinion columnist Ross Douthat recently called for “digital temperance,” an apt phrase that speaks to the binging and compulsive nature of our screen use. We must resist, he argues, an existence “dominated by a compulsion to check email and Twitter and Facebook and Instagram with a frequency that bears no relationship to any communicative need.”
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So next time you’re on a flight and told to shut down your devices, don’t argue and cause a scene, Alec Baldwin. Instead, mock plea, “Don’t throw me in the briar patch!” which is an old literary reference with which your fellow passengers now have the opportunity to acquaint themselves.