Breaking up with tech.

It’s been two weeks since our first High Tea for Women in IT event and I’ve given myself a time out - from tech, although it feels more like a break up.

You see, the past six months since the birth and growth of ed/it women co. have been exciting, thrilling but also exhausting. My daily quota of screen time has been astronomical and it has certainly affected my sleep and stress levels. As my phone pinged me each week with my summary of screen time, I would roll my eyes and ignore it, like a stubborn teen. I started to reflect on why I was being dismissive and not appreciative of the information my device was trying to tell me, to slow down and to take a break from my phone. I like that I’m capable of making that call, and know when I’ve had too much time online. It brought me to question, how do we enable students to do the same? 

At schools, we tend to focus on the screen time of students as a measure of the detrimental impacts of tech on our lives. I agree that screens are inhibitors to relaxation, blue light from screens make you more alert and makes it hard to wind down at the end of the day. As adults, we use screens for a variety of different purposes, my workdays are usually filled with screen time. Some screen time is what I’d term “focused” and other would be “idle”.  

Here’s an example of one of my typical mornings:

Wake up, turn off my alarm on my phone. Whilst I brush my teeth and get dressed for work, I’ll check my calendar, emails and listen to a podcast. Drive to work, continue to listen to podcasts through Apple Car Play, make some phone calls. Arrive at work, open my laptop, plug into external monitor, check emails. 

At no point, in that morning routine, do I feel that I’ve engaged in focused screen time. I define focused screen time as using my device/s to research, create, think, explore or deeply delve into something - when my brain feels like it’s hurting or working hard to accomplish a task whilst looking at my screen. As the above is part of my regular preparation for the day, I don’t feel stressed or fatigued, but that’s just me. I know there will be people who read this who would feel overwhelmed with the amount of tech I use before 8am.

It doesn’t phase me.

What I am mindful of is that focused time, the activities during the day or night that require detail, forethought and careful planning. That focused time is mentally and physically exhausting and needs to be spaced out (which I admit to be really bad at doing). 

Idle time, for me, is that morning routine, online shopping and menial day to day stuff I come across online. It may surprise you that social media is focused time for me. I curate the Instagram profile for ed/it and it’s a challenge for me. I spend time thinking about the post content, whether images align to our brand, the caption and even the hashtags. I’ve spent a lot of time researching and reading about social media analytics and algorithms to best promote our brand online, it’s not something I do on a whim, it’s focused time.

So, my question is, should we interrogate our focused time on screens rather than our idle time? Should we talk to students about spacing out focused time on screens (Eg for homework) and not chastise them for engaging in idle screen time? Of course, I don’t want kids with their eyes on screens all the time, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m questioning the message we share with students about screen time being always negative and not empowering them to think more critically about their use of screens. It is in my view that if we empower students to be more proactive with their use of tech in their everyday lives, they will become more mindful and capable of making decisions to take a break from the screen - of their own accord.