It’s Screen-Free Week.
Have you noticed? I hadn’t — until I saw it mentioned on Twitter. Which, incidentally, I checked on a screen.
This post will appear on a blog that is accessible to readers on a screen.
Screen-Free Week, promoted by the Campaign for a Commercial-free Childhood, began in 1994 as TV-Turnoff week, and it was a noble idea. “[It is] an annual celebration where children, families, schools and communities turn off screens and turn on life,” proclaims the mission statement.
Now, it seems like a quaint one.
Forget the kids. I can’t imagine going without a screen during lunch, let alone a week.
Even in an ideal world, though, I wouldn’t want to.
I remember a few years ago, when a friend told me that she had taken up texting because it made family life so much easier. Back then, I scoffed.
My skepticism feels like a lifetime ago.
Parents are now drenched in the digital culture. The Pew Research Center Internet & American Life project surveyed Americans on their gadgets in 2008 and found that even then “among all household types, the traditional nuclear family has the highest rate of technology usage and ownership.”
From the outside this screen-dependence might suggest we’re using our gadgets as babysitters (and sometimes we are, okay) but more often we are using them to connect.
Here’s more from the Pew survey “Networked Families”:
Although some commentators have expressed fears that technology pulls families apart, this survey finds that couples use their phones to connect and coordinate their lives, especially if they have children at home. American spouses often go their separate ways during the day, but remain connected by cell phones and to some extent by internet communications. When they return home, they often have shared moments of exploration and entertainment on the internet.
This new connectedness via cell phone and screen-sharing is correlated with some benefits for family life. For example, those with the most technology are more likely to share moments with family members while they are online and to exchange some kinds of family communications such as checking in with other family members and coordinating activities.
Of course, we can go too far in suggesting that technology has been all good for family life.
Earlier this spring, I hiked with my daughters into Rock Creek Park. It was a beautiful day, with moments so sublime that I wanted to share them.
While the girls climbed up a little cliff and threw rocks into a stream, I pulled out my iPhone, snapped some photos and e-mailed them to their grandparents. Before I put the phone away, I noticed five new e-mails.
“Stop playing with your phone,” my older daughter demanded. Only then did I realize I had devoted a full 10 minutes to reading those e-mails and typing replies.
No, I should not have been checking e-mail in Rock Creek Park. I especially should not have been checking them while my daughters were perched over a ravine. “Screen-Free in Rock Creek Park” might be too targeted a message, though.
On Monday, I met a parent activist who was part of a panel on effective online advocacy during Parenting Magazine’s Mom Congress. I asked her what parameters she uses to avoid allowing her online demands to swallow her offline family life.
She said she blocks out as digital free the time between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m. daily. That sounds like a realistic goal.
I understand the underlying point of Screen-Free Week. But the title of it has lost meaning. Many of us can go screen-free for a week about as easily as we could endure a juice-diet week.
Experts might do better to encouraging moderation and conscious-use of media for what’s left of the week. Screen-free in the afternoon until Sunday? I’ll try that.
How about you?
Is Screen-Free Week realistic anymore?