Growing up in my house, there wasn’t an internet connection for years. Finally getting dial-up was a flipping luxury, and don’t get me started on the joy when my parents finally took the plunge and installed wi-fi in our house. Since I was little, things have changed very quickly – all the things that seemed super grown up to me as a child or which were a rarity to have now seem very common place (God I sound old don’t I!).
Technology developing in the way it has is an amazing thing. It allows me to see what my friends are up to even though we’re at the opposite end of the country, even in different countries in some cases. It lets us share the biggest moments with each other no matter where we are – I legit nearly cried when two of my friends got engaged last year and told us on Facebook. It gives me access to academic journals and articles that would otherwise only be unearthed after searching though library archives for hours. It makes writing those essays a couple of hours before the deadline possible, and it means I know what’s happening across the globe within minutes of it happening.
My dad has always (light-heartedly) scolded me over my constant use of technological gadgetry. My phone is near-constantly within an arms reach, and if I’m not using that I’m pretty much guaranteed to be on my laptop. Whenever my dad and I go for lunch before I head back to university, I’m always ‘banned’ from taking my phone.
A few weeks ago I had a bit of an epiphany moment. The cartoon lightbulb lit up above my head. I realised just how much time I was spending using something with an internet connection or staring at a screen. From waking up to falling asleep, I didn’t really step away for a significant amount of time. Sure, there’s the occasional break here and there, but overall, I felt I was spending far too much time with them.
So I decided to try to stop being the electronic zombie that I was. I tried to stop checking my phone so much (which proved to be difficult at first as I appear to have a major case of FOMO). I tried to only use my laptop when I needed to do work. I cut back on the Netflix binging that I am so very, very fond of. I replaced my gadgets with another love-of-my-life, which has been there far longer than any mobile phone or social media site has, but which I have neglected for far too long.
I replaced them with books.
The time I spent sat on trains that I would normally spend listening to music became prime reading time where I knew I wouldn’t be disturbed. Plus as I’ve had to spend time on trains every week for the past 6 weeks, those hours really add up. The hours spent sat at my Nan’s bedside every weekend in the hospital while she slept were time to read and attempt not to worry as much.
I’ve always thought I had too many books and not enough time to read them, when in reality it’s because I’ve spent so much time looking at a screen. I’ve been resisting the urge when stood in a queue or sat at a bus stop to reach for my phone and scroll through my newsfeed. Instead I just do nothing, and it’s really rather nice.
Further in my attempt to reduce my screen time has been this – my blogging – but I don’t really know whether I can classify this as blogging because I actually wrote it in a notebook. Because that was another thing I realised had changed since the constant use of my laptop – writing. I used to love making up stories when I was little. When it came to my imagination it knew no bounds (which, in hindsight, could be a contributing factor to my anxiety, but who knows). I could write surprisingly quickly – people often commented on it. Throughout my GCSEs and A-Levels, the majority of the work I did was what I wrote down with a pen and paper. When I reached university I tried countless different ways to cram all of the endless knowledge needed into my head, from typing notes to drawing mind maps. But no matter what, I always ended up going back to writing. And writing. And writing. But time pressures often meant that it just wasn’t feasible for me to be able to work that way, and even now it is easier for me to complete assignments on my laptop in order to be able to handle the sheer quantity of background research required (plus the spellcheck function is a bonus).
The way that technology has changed over the years, whilst in many ways is hugely beneficial, has also meant that I have often neglected the old-school ways of doing things that I actually benefit from more. I’ve replaced books with TV shows far too often, and have ignored how much I loved scribbling away in notebooks as a child. I elected to have a filofax over using the calendar function on my phone because, again, I like writing things down, even if it is the smallest of things. I have to print essays and lecture slides and scribble all over them to be able to learn – I can’t edit will looking at a screen. I write lists in notepads and on post-it notes rather than make notes on my phone. To some that might be weird, but I couldn’t really imagine doing it any other way.
For a long time I tried to either force myself to do things a different way or ignored what I really enjoyed doing, in some instances because ‘well this works for everyone else so it must work for me too’, and when I think about the times when I’ve been happiest, they’re the times when I haven’t been using my phone and instead have been talking to friends or actually paying attention to what’s happening in front of me rather than looking at it through a screen as I take pictures on my phone.
When I set aside time to read books, when I was sat down writing this blog post in a notebook rather than on screen, when I spend time in there here-and-now rather than trying to document it on my phone, it has a surprisingly calming effect. It’s a time free from distractions, from notifications, from emails, from ‘Oh I forgot about them, what are they up to now?’. It’s a time to just breathe, something which I think is important when it comes to looking after my mental wellbeing.