Screens are ever so shiny, and I’ve always been something of a magpie. No matter how much I know – in my brain and bones and even my toes – that I’ll be happier spending the day gardening outside, the screen is still alluring. It’s even more captivating at night, when I can ensconce myself in a comfy chair and the pale glow of the monitor. Inside that screen, there is so much internet. So many thoughts on so many subjects, lots of which are genuinely important. I confess, I’ve spent too many hours researching and exploring late into the night. Worse, when I finally do lie down and turn out the light, my brain stays busy, insists on continuing to click away at various subjects and to-dos. I have yet to wake particularly enlightened for my evenings of seemingly important ether-surfing, nor do those sessions help me wake up well-rested or cheerful.
I’ve decided that computers might as well help me with the solution as well as the problem: I’m retraining my inner screen-junkie with what are essentially parental controls for grown-ups.
On my pocket oracle (aka an ipod touch), I use Moment, an app that allows you to set limits on the amount of time you spend plugged in each day. I have it set to send me a gentle notification after every half hour spent on-screen – a good reminder that the day is passing by outdoors as well as on the clock in the corner of the screen – and to kick me off after a few hours of accumulated screen time. The more important feature for me, though, is that it lets you set screen-free hours. I use this to keep myself off this tiny-but-addicting screen from 9:30pm until the morning.
When working past 9:30, I use my laptop, which has the genius program f.lux installed. While this program doesn’t actually kick me off the computer, it changes the overall tone of the monitor’s display throughout the evening, getting more and more amber starting at sunset. What’s the point? While light of any kind can suppress melatonin (and so interfere with sleep), blue light, like that from your computer screen, does so more powerfully. Since I started using f.lux, I find that I’m more likely to turn the computer off as soon as I’m done the work I genuinely want to do, and I’m much less likely to get distracted and click this link and that link and always one more link. Even better, when I do go to bed, my mind is quieter. I no longer feel like I’m click-click-clicking at whatever thoughts rise up, but instead can let them float off and take care of themselves for the evening. If you ever work on a computer after dark, this program is a boon to your sleeping self.
It’s been said that one of the most important skills these days is knowing what questions to ask Google, or your search engine of choice. But it’s still even more important to ask yourself the right questions. “Do I really want to be online right now?” and “Is it really productive/creative/useful for me to be online right now?” are two questions in my daily repertoire, and I’m all for any tools that help me remember to ask them. There is, after all, so much world outside of the screen.