I get the irony. I’m writing about mindful use of media, posting it on a blog, and sharing it on social networking sites. So with that said, if you don’t read this, I hope it’s because you are out there doing something active and engaging with people who matter to you.
We live in a media rich world and there are aspects of technology that I love. For starters, I’m a Type 1 diabetic and I rely on an electronic insulin pump to deliver life saving insulin to my body throughout the day. Thank you, technology! My life has not been the same since.
On the flip side, my husband and I were raised in a generation where TV was on most of our waking hours. At some point, long before we met each other, we both decided to forgo owning television sets because they interfered with our hobbies of creating art and music. This post is a short take on how we’ve approached the use of media in our own lives and how we have and haven’t introduced it to our son.
The adults in the house
I gave away the only TV I ever purchased 15 years ago, when I turned 21. I was an architecture student and had no time to watch TV. I also didn’t have any money to spend on cable, so there wasn’t much allure in having one anyway. I gave the TV to my sister and in it’s place, I set up an easel and my art supplies. I never looked back. This was in 2001, before I had the internet at home. Getting rid of the TV freed up time for things that I loved and that filled me up: art, reading, and face-to-face talks with the people that I cared about.
Dating during my 20s was tricky since most guys couldn’t get over the fact that I didn’t own a television. Trust me when I say that sports fans were not enthused. I met my husband shortly after I returned home from the Peace Corps. I was 28 and he was 36. He loved that I didn’t have a TV. He was in the process of finishing up his dissertation and spent most of his time reading, writing, or playing music. We spent that first year cooking and talking and going for walks. It was refreshing for so many reasons, especially after the shock of returning to the US from a tiny African village with intermittent electricity.
After we were married and became ready to start a family, we agreed we’d never own a TV. By this time, we owned laptops, were subscribers to Netflix, and felt that we could easily enjoy movies and shows when we felt like it. Acquiring a TV just felt like a waste of time and money. And the thought of arranging our beautiful living room around a TV screen felt depressing.
Forgoing smart phones
We also decided not to enter into the world of smart phones. Part of this decision is frugality and part of it is feeling a determination not to distract myself beyond what I’m capable of handling. I’m pretty sensitive to screens and I love new information. If I had a handheld device ready to captivate me at all moments of the day, I’d miss out on the things that I find truly important. Experiencing living things. Engaging with loved ones. Sitting and walking in nature. Sunlight. Laughter. Eye contact. Making art. I could go on and on.
My husband works at a university that provides him with a free MacBook and an iPad mini. We use the iPad for convenient apps like Instagram and Facetime. We use it to communicate with our family members. I do enjoy the convenience of being able to connect without a buying a data plan.
We have an old flip cell phone that costs $12 a month. We share the cell phone, though my husband rarely carries it. We use the cell for road trips and keep it and the charger in the car most of the time. We also have a landline, which is the number that we give out to people. I’m sure that we frustrate people who would like to contact us more easily, but this is what works for our family. (We also share a car, which isn’t for everyone but it’s worked for us since we met in 2008.)
Intentional use of Facebook
About 5 months ago, I disabled the use of Facebook on the iPad. Now, I have to use my husband’s computer to log on, so I’m limited to the amount of time I spend engaging with it. I try to log on with intention and then promptly log out once I’m done with that intention. I rarely read more than a few posts on my timeline and mostly check for events and messages. I’d reached a point where I would log on without even realizing it. I’d proceed to lose hours of my evenings scrolling through people’s posts, opening new tabs with interesting articles from people I respect, and often running into upsetting information that I wished I could “unsee”. I found myself spending 2 or 3 hours a night lost in another world. What I wanted was to feel connected and it never really happened. In the end, I just couldn’t deny how empty I felt afterword. After 5 months, I’ve never once regretted my decision. I definitely feel fuller and more connected since changing the way I engage with it.
Media and parenting
Since the birth of our son, three years ago, we made some serious decisions about media exposure. There is no denying the data. Early exposure to media is not healthy for the developing brain. Just Google it for yourself and you’ll find one basic answer, “avoid media use with children under the age of two”. So, that is what we did. Aside from a few moments of exposure in stores or passing through a room where a TV was on, we avoided exposing Oliver to media before he was two. This meant that we didn’t have the laptop or the iPad open during his waking hours. I tried my hardest to read paper books when Oliver was nursing, though I did at times use the iPod Kindle app with the brightness dimmed after he fell asleep. When we were visiting grandma and grandpa, we didn’t make a huge deal out of it; we just politely played in another room if the TV was on. Also, they were pretty amazing about turning the TV off most of the time, as long as the Packers weren’t playing!
After Oliver’s 2nd birthday, we stuck with this plan for quite a while, but it became more difficult and we wanted to be flexible. We found a compromise that felt right for us. He is allowed to watch 30 – 60 minutes of cartoons on Saturday mornings. We find 10 minute cartoons on Youtube, with characters he has begun to love. Our favorites are Heroes of the City, Bob the Builder, Fireman Sam, and Thomas the Train. I used a “Vid to MP3” website to download the audio of his favorite cartoons, which we allow him to listen to on the iPod during quiet time in the afternoons. It feels like the right balance for us. And he doesn’t seem to beg for the audio stories the same way that he did cartoons when we first started out.
One of my favorite aspects of living this way is the time we spend together in the mornings after breakfast and evenings after dinner. Mornings are usually spent building things together. Oliver will get busy building and Liberty or I will clean up the kitchen from breakfast. (Liberty is on sabbatical this year and is writing from home and I work part time so parenting is shared equally.) One of us usually joins Oliver to build with Legos or we head out to the library or to a play date. After dinner, we try to be together as a family. We spend that time doing puzzles, wrestling, making up silly dress up games, or just being goofy together. Sometimes we hit a balloon around the living room or play hide and seek. I am amazed at how much fun the simplest activities can be when it involves everyone in the family.
After Oliver falls asleep, Liberty and I will take one or two evenings a week to watch something together or catch up on reading online. We both have space in our home devoted to our hobbies. Liberty has an office that he has filled with guitars and books on mediation. I have an art room. We try to support each other in spending time engaging in these activities. We are definitely happier this way.