In the past decade, our collective living and work spaces have become more interesting than ever before. HGTV, the sustainable products movement, the tiny house trend, shared workspace and so many other compelling changes have launched a very different way of being in our homes and offices.
Perhaps not since the tract housing explosion of the 1950s has anything like this happened to the way that we choose to experience our world on a day-to-day basis.
There’s a dirty little secret, though. These beautiful, fashionable, trendy, ergonomic, efficient and sustainable spaces have been infiltrated. Screens are everywhere, especially the handheld variety.
You can likely think back to your childhood when there was a special space in or around your home that was your retreat of solace. Maybe it was a treehouse, a makeshift fort, a toy room or just a window seat with a view of something that sparked your imagination while you napped, read or daydreamed.
Spaces like that are hard to come by today. We’re confronted with the gushing flow of the planet’s news, views and videos washing into every crevice of our lives.
Earlier in 2017, Perri Klass, MD, reported in the New York Times that a Common Sense Media study had unearthed this dangerously scary reality: adults spend 9 hours and 22 minutes of each day in screen time (and only a tiny fraction of that is work).
Wow! Parents, we need a time out!
Dr. Klass notes the recommendation for “sacred spaces” — a concept advocated by Sherry Turkle, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of the 2015 book Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age.
It’s not a novel concept. On a larger level, we create protected spaces all around us. Vacation is a protected space from work. Libraries are quiet spaces for reading. Schools are spaces for learning. The list goes on.
We know in our bones that we’re better humans when we protect certain spaces from intrusion and distractions.
So, what would our personal spaces look like if we had some sacred solace away from our phones?
About 6 months ago, I stopped checking my work email on my phone. It was a revelation. I had no idea how much time and energy I was putting into that experience. I took up listening to podcasts instead of scrolling through Facebook, Twitter and email at every stop light that dared slow down my rocket sled race to work. I’ve rarely gone back to the old habits. It’s a relief to relax.
Dr. Klass shares that his bed, the dinner table, book time, outdoor time and car time are areas where he is trying to create a phone-free living experience.
Each family has their own pulse and pace. Your screen-free zone might be a day of the week rather than a place, a time of day rather than a room.
Others might need event-driven boundaries: no phone during the Monday meeting, no phone on date night, no phone while working on homework.
Still others might benefit from something even more organized. Dr. Klass reminds us that the American Academy of Pediatrics has a family media use plan that can help outline specifics the entire family agrees upon and updates regularly.
Most importantly along this journey: we parents have to model what life looks like without a screen demanding our attention for an overwhelming 40 percent of the day. Small adjustments here and there can shave off hours of screen time — hours that are precious and sacred, much like our adored spaces and especially like our life-long loved ones.
Richard Singleton, MACE, MAMFC, LPC, is the executive director at STARRY in Round Rock.