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Escape from virtual reality

How many times per day are you checking your email? Facebook? Hitting closer to home, do I really need to check my stats to see if additional copies of my book have sold since I last checked two hours ago? (Answer: one.)

Few of us can resist the continuous stream of information available at our fingertips. Surely, this obsessive doting on screens of all shapes and sizes has a direct impact on our quality of life.

If we already know this, why can't we just stop cold turkey? Because we're addicts, that's why. So says the man that still refuses to purchase a cell phone and is the proud caretaker of his grandmother's ancient rotary dial telephone. Even someone as antiquated as me is not immune to the seductive glow of the screen.

Luckily, you and I have an edge on the average human being. We are privileged to thrive alongside an amazing spectacle of the natural world that is more than capable of rivaling the pixelated-power of any newfangled Jumbotron on the planet. Taking full advantage of our ample and accessible natural assets is the simplest method of yanking us out of a virtual reality that constantly seduces, but never fully delivers.

Unplugging a little begets further connections into reality, and before you know it you're on the road to becoming a well-balanced human being. This is the motivation behind the upcoming Screen-Free Week, which officially lands May 4-10 this year. You can feel free to celebrate something like this any time you wish, but having a designated week with resources available online at screenfree.org could be useful in selling your family or loved ones on the idea.

By the way, nobody is asking you to take the week off from work if you use a computer to make a living, as I do. You can feel free to set up your own parameters without allowing any soul-sucking rigidness to drain the life out of the experience.

I am particularly passionate about this topic. Moving to wilderness near the Boundary Waters during a break from college was pivotal in my transformation from a bleak existence that had previously been mired in the squalor of obsessive hoarding within my childhood home. Television was the opiate of choice, my escape from reality. It was on continuously.

I retreated to a cabin in the wilderness, where solitude ironically became a key antidote to the crushing loneliness that beset me. Possessing no means to access television or radio, I ultimately came to appreciate the great symphony of silence.

Perspicacity, a ready insight into things, blossoms when distractions are kept to a minimum. Today, this is needed more than ever. These days we are hoarders of "information." As a child, my home was so packed with stuff that there often wasn't a comfortable place to sit. Creative thought could not flow from such an environment. In many ways, information overload has produced an eerily similar level of chaos within our mental space. The increase in information has apparently produced a corresponding decrease in wisdom. There is nothing new here. We all see and feel this in society, in our families and in our own lives.

The imperative for most of us is to lessen the obsessive attachment to screens that exists within the context of family and relationships. This is so very difficult, but we must continue to press on in the face of great headwinds. Rewarding experiences will seem to spring up unexpectedly like mushrooms after a rain. A sense of permanence and stability will cling to your relationships like the smell of fresh air on your laundry after a day out on the clothesline.

It's only seven days. Surely we can make it that long. Set some ground rules together as a family and by all means, allow for certain necessities to take place in your various electronic worlds. Treat this as a grand experiment and just maybe one day you'll find yourself hollering in glee, "It's alive. IT'S ALIVE!" Only in this case, technology won't be taking over your world. Your connections with people and the world will be quickened.

Monthly Budgeteer columnist Eddy Gilmore is the author of a newly released book, “The Emancipation of a Buried Man.” Discover more at www.eddygilmore.com.

Eddy Gilmore

Monthly Budgeteer columnist Eddy Gilmore is a freelance writer, father of twins and husband of one. Connect with Eddy at eddygilmore.com.

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