“Why do people watch so much TV?” someone asked me. “Because like most things, it’s trying addict us to it” was the first response that came to my mind.
It’s true. Humans love to interact. Screens provide us with a form of interaction and we respond. But SCREENS ARE ALL AROUND US! We watch people’s lives on TV, send messages through facebook, text, watch online videos, comment on posts by our favourite celebrities, all out of our desire to interact. What’s wrong with that? Well, a friend of mine always says “you can tell something is addictive if the more you do it, the worse you feel, yet you keep wanting more of it”. Ask yourself if there’s anything in your life that you feel this way about? The likelihood is that “screen time” is on your list. You know how you’re tempted to just keep clicking on more and more distracting things on the Internet even when you’re not really enjoying it? Or maybe you can spend 16hrs playing a computer game without noticing RSI, eyestrain and muscle cramp?
The problem with all these interactions is that because they are through a screen, they are not truly emotionally fulfilling. A dog knows that people on Skype have no smell, and part of us knows that we are not getting any human warmth from screens, even if we are interacting with friends. But on the surface, we are fooled, and the more we engage with screens, the less time we spend with real people. We get more lonely. Screen time doesn’t stop the loneliness but it temporarily blocks it. So whilst we don’t feel satisfied by screen staring, we feel worse when we turn it off. This is how people end up spending all their recreational hours in front of the TV or computer. It’s addictive because it pretends it’s alleviates loneliness, whilst making you feel MORE lonely. It’s masquerading as the cure for the problem it’s creating.
Don’t forget: TV wants you to watch it, so it can show you adverts. It uses cliff-hanger endings to addict you to programs so you’ll watch more. Computer games want you to keep playing, so you’ll buy the next game. The Internet wants to keep you clicking on little 3min distractors until they total hours. It wants to collect your user data and show you that sidebar of ads. These ads, compound the problem, fooling your psyche into thinking you’ll feel happier if you buy a certain product or service. But really, this is the same premise – spending creates temporary high that can mask unhappiness for a little while. Consumerism too masquerades as the cure for the problem it’s creating.
So what’s the answer? Well, go back to your list of things that make you feel worse, yet are strangely compelling. Now, make a second list: a list of things that really do make you feel good, like seeing friends, or learning something new. Instead of simply banning yourself from the things on your first list, start doing more of the things on your second list. Put one in your diary every day of the week, and soon you won’t have time for the things on list 1. You can ban yourself from list 1 too if you like, but it’s much more important to fill your life with things from list 2, otherwise you’ll be left with an empty hole where list 1 used to be. Chances are, if you don’t give up screen-time altogether, you’ll notice that it’ll lose its additive pull for you.