April 29, 2013 As the clock ticks down for the Screen Free Week challenge to unplug, it’s been an interesting ‘sell’ to convince teen tribes even for “service learning points.”
Gleaning parent participation in the heart of Silicon Valley? Even harder.
In fact, it’s getting hilarious documenting some of the wince-worthy reactions bordering on mobile co-dependence, not to mention kneejerk misinterpretations of the concept and vehement mindsets which will no doubt become a blog post in itself.
Youth responses have been pretty pragmatic, “Are you kidding me? I’d be lost…LITERALLY without my GPS,” one said. “It’s prom season, are you nuts? My Instagram is how I keep up with everyone!”
I’m making deals for one day vs one week amidst Screen Free Week (some said they’ll try the National Day of Unplugging March 7-8 2014) and I’ll report back on how it all goes, but want to quickly address the critical thinking skills some of my media literacy colleagues seem to be missing by dissing the concept and fun activities of Screen Free Week overall.
For me, it’s not about ‘going backwards’ or being a “Luddite” or vilification of screens, as some of the top tech connectors and heavily engaged “digerati” participate in this digital cleanse not just annually, but regularly! Tiffany Shlain twitter pal, filmmaker, founder of the Webby Awards, and creator of the fabulous film, “Connected” unplugs every single weekend as a Saturday ritual she’s come to count on, as she writes in “Tech’s Best Feature: The Off Switch” for Harvard Business Review.
It’s not a simple either/or issue of polarity but one of media management and mindfulness, just like digital habits themselves. Personally, I unplug periodically, as you can see by my history of related links at the end, because I strongly feel the more digitally inclined we are, the more breaks we need to counterbalance the ‘always on’ dynamic of instant access and signal to noise mindfulness.
To me, Screen Free Week is a core part of media analysis, since determining point of view, purpose of messages, filtering, (both constraining and expanding content, intake, even tools/techniques and knowledge gain) are a key piece of building media literacy.
Screen Free Week can teach us not just about ourselves but also how we walk through the world…
It builds competencies to assess our own habits, create our own terms and conditions and question technological system controls baked into the daily DNA of our lives…that’s self-regulatory media mindfulness in itself!
After all, our own mental relays skip over common practices like how tethered to technology we are for practical information, using screens as data vaults for everything from contacts and photos to finance and factoids. At its most basic aha moment, it’s an eye-opening nudge to ‘back up’ data beyond the ether…
For those diving deeper, it’s a question of not just balancing but sometimes counter-levering screen time with mindful media alternatives to reinforce variety and choice, alternate art forms, creative self-expression and free agency, versus convenient ‘likes’, clicks, snaps, vines, and what can often become thumb numbing addictions…I’ve found it to be a useful exercise!
Clearly, renewing touchpoints with face to face community connections in a ‘retreat, relax, restore’ mind/body nourishment is huge, as anyone who has read Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together can attest…
But for me, personally, I look forward to the annual ritual as a hands-on living lab to ‘check myself,’ educate through show and tell, and gauge the impact of digital reliance far beyond interpersonal social communication and entertainment as it keeps seeping into new areas of my life!
Even hit TV shows like Glee have started getting in on the ‘unplugged week’ fun, which could be a HUGE conduit for opening dialogue about media control altering the fabric of our lives, and creating custom tailored fits by asking personal use questions “Are we using media or is media using us?”
One heavy teen texter actually voiced it was ‘exhausting’ and had no problem unplugging…IF (and only if) her friends would too. This is the fear of missing out or FOMO as the meme has taken shape and a firm hold.
Not very “gleeful” to be a slave to your contraptions…I saw this ‘releasing the shackles’ dynamic firsthand with my own teen when we took a ‘spring break sanctuary’…Best vacation EVER.
I loved “Glee Unplugged” as a whimsical Screen Free Week media romp, using a power outage theme complete with flashlights, candles and kitsch, forcing the cast of characters into a form of mandatory digital detox for their “Lights Out” episode.
Mr. Schue’s assignment?
Unplug and use student’s acoustic talent, exploring music with a capella voices, everyday items repurposed into instruments (clearly “Stomp” –inspired, with a rousing rendition of Queen’s We Will Rock You) and essentially going au naturale sans electronic hardware.
Of course all kinds of allegorical subplots involving ‘coming out of the darkness’ from pain of childhood trauma to shining the light on inspiration and healing through dance, music, the arts etc. came into play.
I’ve could’ve done without the ‘kitchen sinking’ stacking of the storyline surprises, as it was shaping up to be a very simple, pure ‘unplugged’ episode about ditching electronic gizmos in ‘story of stuff’ mode that would’ve been sublime for Screen Free Week…but hey, that’s me.
Glee invariably veers into the drama du jour, embedding ‘surprise’ elements into storylines, rather than devote a full episode on a given topic unless it’s ratings week, hyping ‘teen sex/first time’ cues which thankfully imparted sensitivity, though misleading health stats to kids.
Note to producers of the “Lights Out” Glee episode—Sexual assault deserves more than a ‘mention,’ a flashback sequence, or bundling into the Screen Free Week theme…particularly NOW in the post-Steubenville/pre-consent mixed up media madness of victim-blaming and what constitutes personal violation. And though the PSA was helpful, as I’ve said far too many times, tacking it on at the end of a hit TV show without proper ramp up is shorthand for ‘we wanted to cover this right but didn’t have time’ which the writer/producer in me feels is a classic lazy accountability dodge.
There’s a rare opportunity for prime time mass media education and health and wellness information that youth could benefit from exploring, with media as a conduit for uncorking important conversations.
In fact, at the recent YTHlive conference on public health, they screened ScenariosUSA’s youth produced film “Speechless” which unearthed the “stuffed secrets” theme with a campaign to articulate the mental health impact and need to ‘handle with care’…
And though Glee danced on the edge of an important and all too common occurrence of being dismissed by peers in the bravado/brush off of insensitive pack mentality (and in this case, pop culture high fives from the males) they owe it to their youth audience to tackle tough subjects with more depth if they’re going to ‘go there’ in the first place crammed into a Screen Free Week unplugged theme…But I digress…
Admittedly, Glee Unplugged delighted me for even attempting the digital detox ‘unplug’ conversation…I just wish they would’ve stuck to the Screen Free Week theme and called it a day.
On that note, I’d better do the same before I ramble into TV/media critiques instead of a Screen Free Week celebration…so here are a few prior posts and activities up the wazoo to get you thinking about ways to experiment and explore Screen Free Week in your own world.
Screen Free Week is not finite. There are no ‘musts’ to this event. It’s a customizable concept. A fun family challenge. An opportunity to build community…Play with it!
As for me, I plan on getting to know my guitar again (thanks, Glee acoustic theme!) and getting outside in my kayak for lagoon time to calm the soul as well as soothe the stress points of a totally wired world.
Join in the fun? “See you” next week…
Related Reading On Media Management by Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth
Shaping Youth’s SCREEN FREE WEEK Ideas
Media Overload: Behavioral Reverb
American Data Diet/Info Overload:
Information Overload Research Group (IORG) (amazing resource)
Information Overload Day (yes, it has its own day too! who knew?)
Also from IORG:
- Xerox Corporation’s Information Overload site – insights, resources and articles.
- Interruptions.net – A compilation of over 200 articles related to Interruptions and Distractions
- Challenge Information Overload – a blog dedicated to the subject
Related Posts by Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth On the Importance of Play
Visual Credits: 7 Books that celebrate unplugging your kids via WhatDoWeDoAllDay.com, Glee Lights Out screen shot via Cartoon Doll Emporium.com, Screen Free Week materials from CCFC. Shaping Youth is a proud endorser of Screen Free Week annually.
Other topics you might like