When I was a child growing up in the mid-1970s in England, there was a TV show called, ‘Why Don’t You Just Switch Off Your Television Set and Go and Do Something Less Boring Instead?’. No, I am not joking. This was a BBC show that ran in various formats from August 1973 to April 1995 — a whopping twenty-two years. And I loved it. It was presented by children for children. There was a lot of engagement from the young viewers who shared their own ideas, or games, or creative craft pursuits by writing a letter and sending it in with instructions, pictures, ideas, etc. I have a vague memory that something of mine was on the show. I can’t recall it now but I still remember the thrill of my name and town being shown on the screen. I felt famous.
Today, it would all be done instantaneously on Facebook Groups or by scrolling through thousands of ‘Life Hacks’ on YouTube. There was no instant gratification back then. We learned to participate and wait. We learned to be patient for our show’s time-slot to arrive. We learned that as there simply wasn’t time for every letter to be read out, that disappointment was inevitable. We learned to rise and fall without too many bruises. It was also my first introduction to irony. How could I simultaneously watch the show and switch it off for more creative pursuits? Oh, the conundrum for a small child’s mind!
This irony was permissible. There were few channels and few children’s dedicated programmes. We were encouraged to watch this particular show for creative and educational purposes. Other than our few hours a week of TV screen time, we were up trees, playing hide and seek, playing with balls, skates, dolls, action men and exploring the great outdoors. We were engaging with each other in a world fuelled by our collective imagination.
Television was considered both informative as well as entertaining. It was considered to support society by giving wide cultural experiences to all the UK’s diverse demographics. The British Broadcasting Corporation, BBC1 and BBC2, dominated the households with news, current affairs, art and education with some purely entertainment shows. ITV (Independent Television), the third channel, was set up in healthy competition with the BBC. ITV was far more inclusive and broad in its entertainment output. And that was it. And it seemed a lot. It seemed enough. To me, the woods and parks held a greater appeal. Meeting friends for an exploratory romp was far more exciting than being stuck indoors in front of the TV. The movie screen, the car front windscreen, a train window(screen) and the occasional television screen was all we had and all we needed.
The irony is stamped right here. You’re reading this article on a screen. Perhaps phone, tablet or computer. This article reached you via email or a social media post or advertisement. Perhaps an Instagram post caught your eye and you clicked through to find this written contradiction. We are fully aware of this trap. We want you to switch off your screens and simply be … be natural, be quiet, be you, be kind, be heart-centred, be connected, be empathic, be Love.
How do we moderate our daily use of digital immersion? How do we both redefine and adhere to a healthy balance of human interaction and digital domination? How do we take the good from technology and how do we discern what’s bad? How do we, the trusting and somewhat naive user, dodge the pernicious algorithm bullets when we can’t even see them?
I don’t want to sound like a regressive Luddite from the early 1800s furtively vandalising machines in protest for a more natural way of being. Or do I? The Luddites wanted to address how the machines were taking jobs, replacing manual labour, making the rich richer and the poor more and more desperate. It felt like an assault on the working classes. It felt like a societal ‘upgrade’ with clear winners and losers.
The Social Dilemma
I have just watched the Netflix doco/drama, The Social Dilemma. It is, to say the least, extremely thought-provoking. At worst, it’s deeply disturbing. We live in a world of stats and data and analysis. Studies can show a clear picture of societal correlations – we can map social impacts like never before. Social media’s impact has significantly altered every aspect of life on Earth. It’s not all bad. But the bad is an unregulated self-propelling monster. The consequences are becoming all too scarily apparent.
I urge you to watch the doco/drama and draw your own conclusions. I have drawn mine and I want to make some significant changes.
- Much less screen time.
- More time in nature.
- More leaving the house without any wifi devices.
- Dig out my old watch for when I need to know the time.
- Buy more books and visit libraries.
- Listen more, ask more questions, and re-learn the art of kind conversation.
- Write letters or postcodes to friends and loved ones.
- Volunteer my time and energy for those in need.
On the way home from my walk this morning with my two dogs I was ruminating how to end this article. What did I want to say? I then met a friend and her eight-year-old daughter, Willow.
Willow has no screen time and is schooled in the Steiner tradition – learning through creativity, play and healthy social class collaboration. She was delighted to share her new poem with me.
And right there, listening to her, to her poem and life giving me gifts and answers, I knew this is how I would end this article. With her poem of Spring, nature, creativity, confidence, optimism and the vibrant YES that this digital, screen-free child offered so joyously and generously. I asked her if it would be okay for her poem to go in the UPLIFT Connect magazine on the internet. I could see her delight in seeing her name on the screen. Perhaps she would feel as I did all those years ago … just a little bit famous.
‘Spring’ by Willow
Spring is here, I am one
Standing under the glowing sun
What I give and what I receive
Very near the buzzing bees.
Thunder rumbles, lightning flashes
the storm is over, all is calm
The trees are swaying
The birds are singing.
Seasons pass like a light
Blazing through the cold, dark night
Spring was here, spring is done
I am still under the glowing sun.
How are you feeling about this social dilemma – have we become overly dependent on social media and devices? What do you do to minimise screen time and what is your antidote for digital overdosing? Did you see The Social Dilemma on Netflix? We’d love to know your thoughts and look for kind solutions for a truer, more loving and authentic way of being.
When you’ve commented … take your shoes off and make contact with the Earth.
All our love to you
Paul and Team UPLIFT