Lessons From Youth On Screen Free Week: Perception Vs. Reality

Apr. 20, 2011 Screen Free Week April 18-24 If I’m “Captain of this Ship,” then there’s been a mutiny and I’m walking the plank. Some of the youth crew have called me out and dressed me down for what could easily be a flashback to the old Rolling Stone ad campaign titled “Perception vs Reality.” And they have a point.

In an era of virtual stages, I have failed to fully close the curtain for the symbolic representation of Screen Free Week creating an illusion that is being misinterpreted. These days, your actions are traceable online as a telltale digital dossier, rendering your real life actions OFF line largely irrelevant because they can’t be ‘seen.’

Ironic, isn’t it? It doesn’t matter that I’ve tweeted about #ScreenFreeWeek, championed, blogged and fully invested in the reasoning behind the symbolism and the need to unplug…because it APPEARS I’m “not representing” since I’m the “most visible” in social media circles. What matters, evidently, in the digital age, is perception, not reality. Interesting, n’est ce pas?

Talk about a media literacy ‘aha’ moment. What do you think?

Does it matter that I’ve been supporting the movement by hanging posters in media places and pointing to parks and outdoor play as ‘why to try’ alternatives to the constant pervasiveness of screens?

Or that I already took my Screen Free Week this year for spring break to ‘go dark fully’ with ZERO access to ANY screens, just like we went off the grid last year?

Or is the perception of participating in a larger effort (Earth Hour, Earth Day, Screen Free Week, whatever) more fulfilling than the reality of actually achieving the goal hands-on, whatever that might look like to those that can’t ‘see’ it in the digital sphere?

Youth are used to crafting their digital personas for maximum ‘wow’ factor…

I’m more of a weathered figurehead protruding from the tallship, come what may. So mea culpa, I just didn’t see the storm, matey.

Last month when I ‘went dark and screenless’ for a week yet again, I had a ‘media moment’ that perplexed and enthralled…

I watched with fascination as kids on the beach in Puerto Vallarta literally jumped up and down to capture the perfect midair ‘look’ of fun to add to their social media photo profiles…Skyping pals their ocean views in panorama, holding up and rotating the laptop for full ‘sharing’ from afar…

It hit me as a ‘hmn’ moment, mostly because they seemed to be putting a ton of work into creating the illusion of fun. Not passing judgment per se, just an observation of how the virtual stage has come to be the applause button for attention, validation, and peer to peer ‘sharing’ of life moments. So it got me thinking…If a tree falls in the forest… You see where I’m going with this, right?

Aristotle once defined sophistry as “having the appearance of knowledge without the reality…”

Since I’ve had multiple moments of digital detox (two weeks off ALL screens in less than 30 days, and truth be told we snipped the cord to cable for 6 months entirely as a media experiment) is it more important to have the appearance or reality of being unplugged?

Is the compliance with a symbolic week of ScreenFree unplugging more important than the larger conversation of why it’s so important for families to separate addiction vs agency and wrangle their own media management with mindfulness and unclamp the digital IV drip?

We’re already mid-way through Screen Free Week but here’s how fast the storm can brew from choppy media seas to crashing swells of screen sucking time…Early on the morning of April 18th when a jolting little earthquake hit San Mateo I “had” to pop back onto Twitter to find out if the 1906 EQ was going to be an odd anniversary reprise.

Then, I realized Apr 18-24 also included Earth Day, where I traditionally post a lot about eco-kids and ways to get outside, staying with the Screen Free theme. Hmn, another wrench in the plans.

I tweeted with justification that I probably ‘could do more good for the movement online than off.’ (which got me the warranted ‘everyone else could say that too’ response)

The next day I was reminded by FB for Educators’ Derek Baird that Facebook was ballyhooing their all new Safety Center overhaul April 19, which is a bit of a privacy/platform-thorn in the side for me, with high interest value.

I REALLY wanted to see if there was any ‘there, there’ besides astute PR bringing on a parent advocate posse. (still sorting it all out; looks promising, post to come, after I find the proper authority to interview with hardball questions, since the livestream glitched a bit and gave more of an illusion to participation than actual hands-on inquiry, much like Obama’s FB livestream town hall yesterday)

Finally, I saw that April 22 The SF Film Festival premieres an important documentary film I support by Jennifer Siebel Newsom called Miss Representation about media sexualization AND invisibility of women and its impact on female empowerment (or lack thereof) …so I sort of tossed up my hands in ‘oh well I’m walking the walk, I just can’t fully be Screen Free during the symbolic week this round.’

Mind you, recovering from the Curse of the Good Girl, with a mashup of OverAchiever/SuperGirls Speak Out and ‘disease to please’ I promptly tucked tail a bit when a youth adviser gave me grief about ‘not fully signing off’ for Screen Free Week…

The conversation went something like this:

Teen: “No way. You HAVE to. It doesn’t matter if you already did. Do it again.”

Me: “Whaaaa? Wait a sec. Larger organizations than mine are crowing about ‘bravely’ participating in Screen Free Week when it’s ONE person tokenism at best, why should *I* be the single point person to ‘matter’ when our entire SY volunteer/board crew is OFF line and dark…even though I’m ON a bit trying to catch up on backlog.”

Teen: “Because you are seen.”

Me: “I’ve been ‘screen free’ more times than NOT this month, and not some half-baked ‘for entertainment only’ or ‘work doesn’t count, you can still blog’ modification bit…I’ve been S-C-R-E-E-N F-R-E-E in full. In fact, I took flak about being ‘semi-retired’ I’d been out of the tweetstream so much!”

Teen: “Doesn’t matter. It’s what it looks like.”

Me: “What do you mean, as a role model?”

Teen: “No, I mean, what it LOOKS like. Literally. On the screen. What people can point to. —In our world if you get your picture taken with a red cup or a bottle in your hand that red cup could be 7-up, and the bottle could be rootbeer…but it Just. Doesn’t. Matter. It IMPLIES you had a drink. You can have red eyeballs, a goofy face and bad allergies, with the right caption, you’re ‘stoned.’

Me: “So truth and accuracy are no longer important? Gawd, then I’d hate being a teen today; it’s like everything’s a rumor, conjecture. That’s a slippery slope, plus friends with constant cameras is like having paparazzi in your face; public and private are way too blurred and surreal.”

Teen: “It’s just the way it is. You get used to it. Or learn not to care. But you DO care, obviously, because you’re upset about it.”

Me: “I’m not upset, I’m annoyed…The concept that fictitious perceptions can trump reality and that virtual personas can outweigh real life flesh and blood actions is weird. It’s like saying even *without* being a public figure, actions ON line in some ways count more towards ‘perception’ of reality than real life actions OFF line? That seems messed up.”

Teen: “21st century digital life…Just sayin’…”

Sigh. Clearly time for me to get outdoors and make sense of it all.

Enjoy your Screen Free Week, families…Weigh in with your ideas for quality time and let us know how it’s goin’…

I’ll be hanging posters, and yep, walkin the walk. Outdoors. But ‘unseen.’

Related Resources For Screen Free Week on Shaping Youth

Spring Break Sanctuary Away from Digital Dramas

Spring Break Sanctuary: Ideas To Celebrate Screen Free Week

Nature Rocks! Reconnecting Families

Shaping Youth Through Nature, Media Unplugged

Shaping Youth: NCLI: Get ‘Em Outside!

Shaping Youth: Media Savvy Kids and Nature Deficit Disorder

If Kids Could Be Dolphins: The Power of Creative Play

The Nature of Tweens: Wired Worlds & Outdoor Ed

Shaping Youth Joins Eco-Literacy Coalition: NCLI

Shaping Youth: The Great Turtle Race

Planting Earthseeds Via The Magic School Bus: Eco-Media For Kids

40 Eco-Tips for Earth Day Worth “Recycling” To Friends

Shaping Youth Media Management Series:

Media Management: Addiction vs. Agency Pt 1

Media Addiction vs. Agency: The Context of Control Pt2

Media, Medicos & Critical Thinking: Addiction Series Pt3

Media Slave, Reshaping Habits For More Summer Fun

Amy Jussel On Kids Media Mgmt & Childhood Matters Radio

Geolocation: Facebook Places Is It Only ME? Disabling for Privacy

Media Overload: Behavioral Reverb

Your Brain On Computers–The Unplugged Challenge (NYTimes)

Digital Devices Deprive Brain of Needed Downtime (NYTimes)

Outdoors And Out of Reach: Studying the Brain (NYTimes)

More in the NYT Series/This is your Brain on Computers

Are Digital Devices Making Us Less Creative? (SpinSucks)

Unplug Your Kids Blog (by “Mom Unplugged”)

For Teens Today,  Online Ties As Strong As Family (CNET)

Facebook To Reach Saturation Soon? (Social Media Today)

How Important Is It to Unplug? (SpinSucks)

This is Your Brain on Farmville (Consumerist)

The Dangers of Digital Detoxing (The Daily Beast)

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