Media fast

January 6, 2014

turn off the computer

In many religious traditions, fasting — going without food for a period of time — is practiced as a means of slowing down, gaining control over oneself, and reaching toward the spiritual.  The same principle can be applied to media, with similar results.

(Just an aside: isn’t it ironic that we use the word “fast” for a practice that is intended to slow us down?)

Yesterday, the first Sunday of the new year, I turned off the computer for a day.  I played no CD’s, didn’t use the telephone, didn’t even use the computerized sewing machine.  Nothing “virtual”, nothing “tele-“, no “web”.  I turned off, didn’t use or ignored anything that wasn’t real in the present moment.

What happened was not surprising: my mind calmed and my body relaxed.  I belonged to the moment and the place I was in.  My creativity soared and my concentration became focused.

I was able to accomplish far more than I imagined possible: I made my own music — literally — creating a piano duet arrangement of a piece for a friend and I that I had “not had time to get around to” for weeks.  And then I made the first in a series of small quilts that I have been sketching for the past several weeks but “hadn’t had time” to start.  I embroidered and quilted by hand and honestly, it didn’t seem to go any slower than using a machine — I spent the time doing the work, engaging with my own hands instead of figuring out how to get a machine to do it.  These tasks were immensely pleasurable.

As the day went on, I began to notice little “ticks” in my mind — momentary urges to check email or glance at Facebook.  Several times I started to reach for the cell phone involuntarily.  These moments made me realize just how much this has become habitual, even addictive.  Each time it happened, I drew myself back, reoriented myself to the here and now, and settled back into the task in front of me.  It made me aware that I can exercise control over when and how I use these tools.  I command them, rather than the other way around.

(It’s useful to ask yourself what “reward” you’re getting each time you check the web.  Then ask yourself if it’s better than the reward you’re receiving from doing what’s real, right in front of you, right now.  Or if the interruption was not worth the effort of resuming your concentration.)

At the end of the day, I took a walk.  It was night and foggy.  After a little while I even stopped walking, and just stood taking in the peace and beauty around me.  It was the perfect ending to the day.

As a result of this experience, I’ve decided to create a “media schedule” for myself, and I challenge you to do the same.  I’m scheduling two times during the day when I check and answer email.  I’m checking FB once a day, and then closing the window.  Blogging will be limited to 2-3 times a week.  Instead of multitasking I’m focusing on one task at a time.  I’m playing the piano and walking every day.  And I’m turning off everything on Sundays.  (Orthodox Jews have been doing this for centuries; clearly, they’re on to something.)

To riff on Timothy Leary:  Turn off, tune in . . .

I’m certain you’ll find the rewards are worth it.

Happy new year.


One Response to “Media fast”

  1. Sharon Powless Says:

    Good idea. I do the same thing myself. Since my sewing machine, while not expensive, is computer run also, I would have to shut that off too. I find have spend too much time on my computer too. I wait for FB messages and emails to come so I can look at them right away. I spend too much time on websites (that includes quit store sites) and just waste my day away waiting to see what others are doing, rather than doing myself.

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