I do this Stoic* exercise where I pretend that every screen in the area is blank and silent.
I imagine myself sitting in a movie theater with 100 other people, for three hours, staring at a huge black screen.
I imagine an Internet cafe full of people sitting in front of blank computer screens, nobody talking to each other, total silence.
I imagine a group of friends at dinner, all looking at their lifeless phones.
This reminds me that what goes on while interacting with a screen isn’t supposed to be the point of life. It’s just a conduit to doing things in the real world. Like staying close to people when I’m not near them, or learning and practicing skills, or relaxing and entertaining myself.
Ultimately a screen is just a screen.
I have all these reasons to be in front of screens, the least important being the way I make a living. And, yeah, I learn a lot and engage a lot and develop skills on and from screens—but in reality, pure physical reality, the difference between a screen that’s on and a screen that’s off is negligible.
There are some electrons and photons moving around in really interesting patterns, and there’s the reaction they produce in my brain when I look at them. Maybe some sound waves. I don’t deny these things are amazing. Obviously!
In the physical world, you are constantly clashing with molecules large and small and hard and soft and brittle and strong. You run into brick walls, get punched in the face, swim in deep water, feel the breeze in your hair, and other things that are merely metaphors for larger things.
That’s where the real action is.
It’s important to me to make sure my screen time is properly invested. It needs to be used to make me smarter, or more caring, or fresher.
Otherwise, all I’m doing is sitting still and staring at nothing.
*Note: I’m just calling it Stoic to sound cool. It functions for me the way some of the thought experiments proposed by actual Stoics function. But really this is just one weird thing (among many) that I think about sometimes.