Green Your Screen: No TV – No Problem

The term sustainability covers a myriad of principles and aspects of our everyday lives. Living a green life isn’t just about buying organic food, unplugging electrical equipment when not in use and keeping worm vermiculture under your sink, it’s about building up a community and creating a simple life. Sustainability principles are more than creating a natural place to exist in, it’s about creating a way of life that enriches the environment you live in, and not just for you, but for those around you. Sustainability is a way of life, not just a principle within it.

Modern life has become pretty complex with its propensity for ultra-processing, chemical altering and wrapping in plastic, and it’s easy to get caught up in the speed it travels at. Living a well balanced sustainable life has many faces with each person trying to find what ‘works’ for them. Anything we do to create a more ‘green’ and natural lifestyle goes a long way to saving the planet and needs to be done, but are there areas we all overlook?

One of those areas that have become so integral in our daily lives that however green we endeavor to be, we still feel that letting them go seems impossible. One of those areas is probably personal electronics. Anything with a screen on seems to have the power to draw us in make themselves instantly indispensable in our lives. Just think about how many screens you have in your green life. Most people have a phone, tablet and numerous TV’s at their disposal and most of them are watched for several hours a day – and sometimes we are so immune that we watch them without even realizing it, or we have them constantly running in the background when no one is watching.

There are many reasons why we have to heighten our sustainability values to include the ability to tame our dependency on these electronica, and all of them have value that we have forgotten or filtered out in the speed of our daily lives. It would appear we simply don’t consider the sustainability of our personal electronics as we are so dependent on them. We blot out the reasons to not use them daily, hourly, or by the minute because we don’t want to be without them.

Each of these ideas below for lessening our personal electronic time has a valid green reason for inclusion.

ENERGY DRAIN

How often do you switch off your phone? Unless you fly, that’s probably never. You never seem to be in a situation to have to switch it off, but what about your phone charger? We all keep them plugged into the wall so we can quickly access power when our phones threaten to die on us. For most people, plugging the phone in to power it up overnight is a ritual whether our phone needs it or not, just the same as leaving them plugged into the charger even if they are fully charged.

All the time your charger is plugged in, it’s drawing power.  When the battery in your phone is fully charged the charger still draws a current – and then discharges them so that the phone is safe. Essentially it draws power, then neutralizes it. A bit like filling your car with gas, letting it run all over the forecourt when the tank is full and the only action you take is to put sawdust on the continuously falling fuel. Though the electric draw doesn’t sound like much, your charger is sucking power 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – and that’s just your charger. How many other phones are there in your house?

Whether you use all the power productively it draws or not, you still have to pay for it, and so does the environment.

The phone isn’t the only vampire energy sucking electronic device that permanently draws power whether it’s on or not – all of them do. Tablets are exactly the same, games machines and TV’s all continue to draw power even if they’re switched off. How many of those do you have in your home? It all mounts up. By rule of thumb, if it has a little red light on it, it’s still silently sucking power. If you want to switch them off and save energy, the only way to do it is to use the plug.

PERSONAL TIME

Another aspect of a sustainable life is the ability to connect with the environment around us. There is a definite disconnect between personal space and community in the digital age. When your grandparents wanted personal space they found a quiet corner and engaged in a quiet activity – reading, drawing or a hobby. If they wanted social or community space they went and found it. They went for a walk, visited a friend’s house for a cup of coffee or joined a special interest club. In effect, you created the kind of atmosphere you wanted to be in. You made an effort and invested in each type of experience which made it all the more valuable.

In the digital age there is no quiet corner, no personal space – and community and social space is fast becoming a rare past time too. If you have a mobile phone there is especially no such thing as personal space. You can be contacted 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and a cell phone doesn’t care where you are, what you are doing or how appropriate it is. If you leave your phone turned on 24/7 you become a slave to it and it can rob you of the peace our grandparents enjoyed as we lose all dimensions of personal space. The worst thing is, you don’t know you lost it – unless you make time to find it again.

Social situations also suffer from mobile devices. My youngest daughter did a term paper on digital devices and social interaction. She observed all the grades in her school in the classroom where they were not allowed to have electronic devices of any kind, and then observed the same people at ‘free time’ such as lunches and recess where access was unrestricted.

The results were sad. She found out that during the class time there was 90% more interaction between the students in education focussed time, but also 70% more social interaction when they were not focussed on talking about the class topic. Having no interruption from their phones increased their attention on other things – but also on other people.

During lunch and recess she observed over 80% of children spent more time texting on the phones than joining in a conversation, and nearly 94% received texts during social time and stopped what they were doing to answer them. The average number of texts they sent in an hour when in a social setting was 43. Without investing in social relationships the good, solid friendships that make life enjoyable are not formed, they can’t be, as they don’t have the opportunity to be formed. After all, how can you have an interested, heartfelt discussion if you’re both always looking at your phone? Constant distractions are never conducive to building relationships. And your phone is never far away from your hand. It doesn’t bode well for our future generations of leaders.

Time away from electronic distraction can let you create consciousness to other things

UNRESTRAINED ACCESS

With this constant dependency (dare I even say … an addiction) to being permanently connected to the outside world comes a more serious problem than not being able to sever the umbilical cord between the hand and the device.

The added danger of constant contact is that this contact is unrestrained. There is no filter on screen based personal electronics, so if your device is relentlessly bombarding you with images and articles of how you are to look, feel, live and love you are not creating your own parameters, your screen is! What’s wrong with ‘going it alone’ in the world, leaving your electronics behind, and rather than seeing a camera man’s idea of beautiful countryside – go out and find your own! Or why not explore what is healthy by talking to the local growers at the farmers market rather than Wikipedia? They’ll have way more practical advice and great ideas too. You never know, you may even enjoy the experience and make a new friend.

Eco-friendly ideas, sustainability and the environment do not figure highly is the screen time of any digital device. The ideas are not suggested to the masses, so they are not followed. Just imagine what it would be like if 30% of your screen time included solid sustainable principles? That’s only 1 in 3 of its current content, then our children would be bought up on a diet of healthy, natural practises and would easily accept it as it was the way of life for them. But sadly, solid sustainable principles do not generate money so are not worthy of screen time for the average company.

INSULAR

Electronic devices are time hoggers. Whatever way you look at it and however many times you hear, ‘but it is social – I text my friends all the time’, these devices are all intrinsically insular. When the TV is on can you really socialize? How often is a TV turned on and no one is listening? It’s a distraction, and a ‘lone’ viewing experience. The computer is the same. And the tablet. And the phone. These devices are taking away the social skills we used to have and replacing them with … nothing. What benefit is a text ‘conversation’ – especially if it’s ‘guy speak’. Let me illustrate;

‘Sup?

Nothing

Cool.

You?

Nothing.

Cool.’

…. Long pause of several days.

Riveting social stuff – the kind of literature that lays the foundation of a Shakespearian play … NOT!

How can people get to know each other via text, or communal TV watching or computer game playing? The second the text is sent the texter is immediately alone for who knows how long? And why do people need to get together when they can text? Social situations are not just about a transfer of information.

Social skills are necessary to increase emotional feeling and mature responses like love, tolerance, patience and friendship. These need to be practised to be developed and an uninterrupted group situation is the only way to gain these vital life skills, not when some, or all of them, are constantly texting their friend about the hair color of Lady Gaga or the dimensions of a football pitch.

At home it seems no better. It seems even small children not able to read have to have a TV in their bedroom. You may consider them too young for a phone or computer, but what difference is a TV in their room? They can watch whatever they want, when they want, but always on their own. They don’t learn how to share, place limits on their desires, or learn the things of value on their own, with no adult super vision as to what information they are filling their brain with. Tantrums over not getting their own way at 6 years old are not very attractive, tantrums at sixteen for the same reasons are quite another.

We can create a society out of a group of insular raised adults, but we can’t create a community from them and a sustainable community is a committed, caring, sharing community that makes life worth living.

MONOCULTURE

Another problem with persistent TV watching, computer working or phone texting is that we create a monoculture. The more time we spend on these devices the more it becomes a habit. Doing something repeatedly for 21 days makes it become a habit. Good or bad, if you do it for six months and it’s a personality trait. It doesn’t take long for mindless TV watching and internet surfing to be a part of us as a person, so we effectively relate to each other by make and model of phones, music videos, programs we watched on TV last night. That doesn’t sound so bad, but what enrichment do we get from these activities? How are they making us a better person? I’m not saying they’re a bad thing, but I am saying that in excess just as we are what we eat, we become what we do.

Creating a monoculture that is dependant personal electronic devices is like canoeing to Switzerland and hiking the alps with a bag over your head; it blinds to the beauty that is around you and the education you can get from actually having a real life. And no one would go the expense of a trip to one of the most beautiful places on earth and miss a moment of it, so why not live your life like that – looking for the new and wonderful in your everyday occurrences? Enjoy the wonder of your aesthetics, look for a sense of fun in the mundane, treasure the relationships you make.  In short – Live like someone left the gate open! It makes the quality of your life amazing.

I am not writing all this as a great ‘theory’ as we have tried and tested a sustainable approach to personal electronics right from the beginning. We have not had a TV for 24 years. We had no games machine until my husband’s parents decided we were negligent parents and bought our son one for his 12th birthday. They had no mobile phone until they were 16, and even then it was one phone that was  shared. The key to living in the digital age and mastering it, we felt, was not living without personal electronics but to be able to limit them.

With the games machine our children were allowed 30 mins a day after homework, but an hour if it was a multi-player game. They had a phone, but had to share it between the three of them and knew that it was really a way to call home in an emergency. Computers were allowed to be used for school work, but always in a communal space and always through the filter that their father had set up. We had ‘screen free Sundays’. Earphones were only allowed when they weren’t in a group. All devices had some kind of restriction on them. After all – do you really need so many TV’s?

I’m sure some of you are reeling in horror at some of these measures, but without any control over personal devices we had no control over how our family worked together as a team. Each of us sitting in the same room no longer became a social setting if one was on their iPod, one was on their computer and another texting their friends. By limiting the time they spent on insular electronic activities, we opened up the time to spend as a family. Do I regret it? NO! Never.

My children are now all at University. They are committed students who are well liked and have large social circles. They get invited to everything. They are never alone. People naturally flock to them and want to be with them. They can share their Quinoa and asparagus salad or get out their solar iPad charger and no one bats an eyelid. Quite the opposite – they are all very interested in what it is and how it works – and always ask if they can try it. My children are better functioning, useful members of society because we limited their electronic time. And I would advocate everyone to do it.

I can picture you all saying, ‘Well that would never fly in our house – the kids would riot’. Firstly, I would say your children are what you bring them up to be. Secondly, I never wanted my children to feel deprived because of the limitations. We set out the policy as a couple so it was not something they could play one of us off against the other on, then decided that if we were going to take something away with one hand, it would be easier for them to accept if we exchanged it for something else with other.

We limited their screen time, but took them to the library once a week, went out for some kind of outing and made sure they had individual time with each of us. We played games – from football to sledding, from clue to twister, and from Uno to poker. We explored art with them, camped in the garden with them, grew veggies together, taught them how to cook, visited people together and went on many day trips. We didn’t schedule wall to wall fun, there was also plenty of downtime for them to do their work and learn how to entertain themselves, but we made sure they had other options to spending time on a personal electronic device.

Do they feel deprived? I once asked them that. And no, they didn’t and still don’t. They can see the difference in the way they appreciate the world around them, how they have amassed more information that has become useful to them and allowed them to relate to people. They learned responsibility for the environment, understood what was happening to the world and made decisions about how they could help all because we took the time to show them.

One of my most treasured memories was my then 15 year old son saying to his sisters, ‘look the suns shining – let’s go out and have a water fight – but only use the grey water!’ and then they all trotted off to find the ultimate weapon, fill up copious buckets from the rain barrels and create an ambush. They didn’t understand the concept of ‘boredom’ as they knew a myriad of ways to entertain themselves; they didn’t even need my input for ideas. And before you get the impression that our house was a paragon of virtue, the afternoon ended with them jumping off the deck onto the trampoline, which was rigged up with the harvested water garden sprinkler hoses, bouncing into the above ground pool – until my son broke his leg. Five years later they still dissolve into a fit of giggles at the fun they had that day. The sun burn, the kool aid that they tried to colour the pool with, and that amazing, daring ‘bum dive’ into the water. But these are the memories they treasure. Not one text, video game or TV programme figures in any their happiest moments. There’s a lot to learn from that.

Only when you limit your time on these devices, and do the same for those you love around you, you come to realize – When we cut back, we end up giving more.

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