I want more than staring at a screen


Sarah Allen Staff Columnist


“I wanna be free, / Like the bluebirds flying by me, / Like the waves out on the blue sea…”

So sings The Monkees’ Davy Jones. It’s a song I’ve always liked, ever since I first stumbled upon the old Monkees TV show in junior high. And recently, that song has been especially appropriate.

No, not because of some relationship, or because I’m nurturing a sudden self-reliant streak.

Instead, I’ve been feeling as free as passing bluebirds or crashing waves when it comes to social media.

Scandalous, I know. And by even confessing this … unplugging, I risk being drummed out of my generation.

But it all started about two months ago.

I was getting ready to head off to Disney World. The trip was still a couple weeks away, but I’d begun making to-do lists and such.

One night, I was scrolling through Facebook, completing my last newsfeed check of the day. In fact, looking back, I sought social media nourishment (so to speak) about as often I sought food: Once in the morning, again at lunch, and one last time in the evening.

As I sat in bed, cross-legged, hitting the down arrow again and again as statuses flipped by, I had a thought. And that thought, unbidden, made me pause, look away from the screen, and shake my head.

The thought? Man, I’m going to be so far behind when I get back from Disney World.

Really? Here I was, about to head to the Happiest Place on Earth, and I was worried about statuses, funny pictures, and pointless quizzes falling through the cracks on Facebook?

I was appalled, quite frankly. When had social media stolen such a high place on my priority list? And when had it become something that I “had” to do, almost like dishes or dusting? Wasn’t it supposed to be fun?

The answer: Yes.

But was it? No, not really.

How often, I thought, have I checked Facebook, not because I wanted to, but because I’d rather do that than figure out some other way to ease my boredom? How many times had I powered down my laptop, feeling frustrated over too many nasty comments and political rants in my newsfeed?

But, the worst question of all: Why did I feel so obligated to keep going back to it, over and over again?

I couldn’t come up with an answer. And that, in and of itself, I felt was the answer.

Since then, Facebook and I are re-evaluating our relationship.

Do I still get on Facebook? Sure. I’ll scroll through my top stories for about five minutes. I’ll check my messages. And, yes, I’ll post photos now and again.

But that is all. And you want to know something strange? Facebook is fun again.

It’s something to fill the occasional empty moments. It’s a way to stay connected and to share with friends and family.

But it’s stopped pulling me in, like a planet does a moon. Instead, it’s become more like a pause during a stroll in the woods: I stop, observe and appreciate, and then continue on my way.

And I can’t help but feel free.

It’s something that’s been said many times since the digital age first began: There is life away from our screens. We were made to live, not virtually, but vigorously.

But that’s a challenge these days. And I came across a testament to that sad fact during one of my short forays into Facebook.

In a project entitled “Removed,” photographer Eric Pickersgill shows typical, everyday scenes – except all the electronic devices have been removed.

The images speak volumes. In one, a couple lays back to back in bed, staring at their hands. In another, three boys sit on a couch, transfixed at the empty spaces where tablets would be.

It’s easy when a device is present, demanding our attention, to overlook how the lack of eye contact and closeness are becoming the norm.

So, yes, as Davy Jones once sang: “I wanna be free.”

Because I want to do so much more with my life than stare at a screen. To quote more from The Monkees’ song: “I wanna hold your hand/ Walk along the sand/ Laughing in the sun/ Always having fun/ Doing all those things/ Without any strings/ To tie me down.”

Of course, in the song, those “strings” are the commitment that comes with a relationship.

But who would have ever thought that those strings could represent something else? That, nowadays, what stands between us and “laughing in the sun, always having fun” aren’t found within ourselves or another person, but instead in the blue-white light of phones, laptops and tablets?

Reach Sarah Allen at 937-393-3456, ext. 1680, or on Twitter @SarahAllenHTG.

Sarah Allen Staff Columnist
http://timesgazette.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/web1_AllenSarahCMYK27.jpegSarah Allen Staff Columnist
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