With the New Year here, we decided this month to focus on one of our favorite suggested New Year’s resolutions – learning to reduce media consumption in your life. Why is this so important? The consumer media machine sends its message to you … through the media! In particular, messages are sent via electronic media. It’s not just a good idea to reduce the amount of media consumption in your life in order to reduce the grasp of consumerism on you – it’s also a good idea for your overall mental health. Study after study has shown that the amount of digital media that Americans (and even global citizens) consume is leading to increased stress and insomnia and a decrease in the ability to concentrate and focus. This month, we’re walking you through the twenty joyful steps and tips we’d suggest if you want to become media free – or just reduce overall media consumption.
1. Define “Media Free”
The first step that you’ll need to take is to define what the term “media free” means to you. It doesn’t mean never watching TV or using a smartphone again, but it frees you from media dependency. It could simply mean that you set a goal of how many hours of your day you spend getting “screen time.” It could mean selecting only the types of media activities that are important to you. For example, maybe you want to give up television but not give up watching sporting events. Or perhaps you want to reduce smartphone use but still be able to check the news headlines in the morning. Less computer time is good, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you want to give up Skype calls or IMing with your loved ones.
Spend some real time thinking through what Media Free or Media-Less means to you. Do some journaling or writing. Make some lists. Talk it through with people whose opinions you respect. At the end of the day, becoming a Postconsumer is about making your own definitions around what your comfort level is. Take the time to put thought and effort into creating those definitions.
2. Log Your Media Hours
To know where you want to end up, you need to know where you’re starting. Get a journal, notebook or even spreadsheet and log your media hours over the course of two-to-three weeks. It’s important that you do this exercise for at least two weeks (though three is better). Media habits can vary from week-to-week depending on schedules, stress and even what’s on TV. You want to make sure that you’ve tracked for enough time that you’ll be able to get a real idea of how much time you spend in front of screens.
We think it’s a good idea to break your media hours down by media type. For television, computer and even video games, that should be easy. Tracking the time that you use with your smartphone can be harder, though. Be diligent and make sure that even if you don’t write it down you make an honest estimate at the end of each day about how much time you spent looking at a smartphone. We’re pretty sure that you can find an app for that!
It’s also a good idea to try to note the times of day that you’re in front of a screen a lot. You may be able to identify other ways to spend your time that are driven by the times of day when you often find yourself in front of a screen.
We’re just guessing, but we suspect that when you’re done logging media hours for several weeks, you’ll actually be shocked at how much time you spend in front of a screen!
3. Set Scheduled Media Time in Hours
Now that you’ve defined what Media Free or Media-Less means to you and figured out where you’re starting from in terms of media hours spent during the week, you can start to take the first steps to reduce media usage. And what’s the first step? We suggest setting boundaries in terms of how many hours per day you spend in front of a screen.
There are a number of ways that you can accomplish this goal. You can just set a pure number of hours per day and then track them. You can also set a number of hours per week and then adjust as you go along (think of it as Weight Watchers for a media diet). What we think is a good idea, though, is to go back and look at the media hour tracking you did before you started. Are there days when you have heavier media usage than others? Take those days and set one goal for them. Then take the other days and set another, more realistic goal, on those days. Like anything, you don’t want to expect perfection at first. Chances are you’ll need to wean yourself off of screen time. Eventually, you can work up to the next step…
4. Practice a Few ‘Screen-Free” Days
You may not want or even need entirely “screen free” days in your future, but as a part of learning to reduce media consumption in your life, it’s a good idea to schedule some of them as you’re transitioning. None of us are used to silence these days. And turning on the television, computer or picking up the phone and looking at it just to kill time is second nature to many of us. You really most likely need to schedule a few entirely media free days at the beginning of your journey to get over the “jonesing” effect of not having a screen in your face all the time.
Pick a day when you can fill your life up with other activities. We’d also suggest doing this after you’ve reduced media hours per day for several weeks. Dumping your media screens cold turkey is most likely only going to make you frustrated and hold your overall effort back. Instead, get used to a slightly lower exposure level of media and then pull a few days of full abstinence to give your mind some time to quiet down and relax.
Think of it like a Master Cleanse for your media diet!
5. Put Your Phone In a Drawer
Smartphones are one of the most ubiquitous ways that we subject ourselves to an endless stream of media and digital chatter. They’re also the most addictive form because they’re, obviously, portable. So how do you reduce your smartphone use? It’s often not as easy as it sounds. The first step is actually mental. You need to realize and accept that you do not have to be accessible to everybody at every minute. You do not owe that to anybody. And, in fact, it’s both mentally and physically healthy for you to have time when you don’t feel as though anybody can access you at any second. Trust us, all of the texts and messages will still be there when you pick your phone back up.
Believe it or not, this is an incredibly hard mental leap for many people to make. We strongly suggest picking some hours of the day and putting your phone in a drawer where you can’t see it. Be sure to turn the volume off (or better yet just turn the phone off entirely) so you aren’t constantly drawn in by the sound of texts, alerts and phone calls. We promise you, once the phone is out of sight it will be out of mind as well. You will be hugely surprised by how quickly you are able to let go of your attachment to the phone.
6. Give Up Your Cable
This move isn’t right for everybody, and depends largely on what your personal definition of Media Free or Media-Less ended up being. However, getting rid of your cable television is a great step for many rungs on the ladder of climbing to less and less media.
Remember, almost any show or event that you want to watch on cable television is now available to stream, download or purchase. When you get rid of your cable television, you get rid of the option to just ‘channel surf” to kill time. You’ll make better, and precise, decisions about what you do and don’t want to watch. You may even find that you end up saving some money as well. Just remember – keep your streaming and downloading legal!
7. Put a Blanket Over the TV
We read an article recently about a woman who was trying to improve her self-body image. She put blankets over all of the mirrors in her house so that she wouldn’t look at her body and would instead focus on things that she liked. And she learned to love herself, and her body!
While learning to love yourself is more important than reducing your media, there’s a huge lesson here in that what you can’t see staring you in the face every day can’t control you. That’s as true with televisions (and computers, and video game consoles) as it is with mirrors and self-image. So get the TVs out of sight when you’re not using them. If your definition of Media Free or Media-Less includes some television usage, then you can accomplish this by just putting a blanket over the TV (or by putting the TV on a stand that includes cabinet-like closing doors). If you’re trying to get rid of TV altogether, unplug the television and put it in a closet.
This can be true of any home media – computers, video consoles, even stereos if that’s your weakness! Blankets, sheets and cabinets are your friends.
8. Create One Room That’s Media Free
Stop right now and think about how many rooms in your house don’t have televisions, computers or video game consoles in them. The bathroom and the kitchen don’t count (though we know that in many modern homes even those rooms have flat screens in them)! You can’t expect to go Media-Free or Media-Less if you don’t have a room that you can go to that isn’t filled with media.
If you already have a media-free room, then good for you. The beauty of the sitting room has not been lost on you! However, if there isn’t a “safe space” in your home for getting away from the long arm of the media machine, then you need to create one. This is, of course, a much simpler task if you live alone. But if you’re sharing space with others, it shouldn’t be too difficult to negotiate a media-free space. If your home involves roommates, then make your bedroom media free. If you’re a family, then it’s time to take charge and lead the way for less family media time and demand a room that’s safe from screens!
9. Let Go of the Laptop (or at Least the Concept)
You don’t need to replace all of your laptops with desktop computers. After all, this is the twenty-first century. What’s really the culprit when it comes to over-consumption of media is the idea of a computer screen that travels with you wherever you go. If it’s as extreme as carrying it with you all over town or just as seemingly benign as traveling with you from the desk to the couch to the bed, the point is that you’re not walking away from the screen. It’s “walking” with you.
Treat your laptop (or even your tablet) like it’s a desktop. Set a space or desk in your home where you use the computer. Don’t use it when you’re not at that space. You’ll find that you dramatically reduce the amount of pointless internet browsing that you do. You’ll also find that you spend less overall time in front of a screen.
It’s important to note that this strategy usually works best when combined with setting a limit on hours in front of a screen per day. Otherwise, you may just find yourself sitting at your desk for longer and longer stretches of hours. That not only doesn’t help you reduce media, it’s just plain unhealthy for you!
10. Get Rid of the Apps
Take out your smartphone right now and delete every non-essential app! That includes games (Candy Crush we curse you!), entertainment apps and almost every social network app. We’re certainly not suggesting that all apps are bad apps. In fact, there are some consumer and budget apps that we think make smartphones one of the greatest inventions of all time. But ask yourself what draws you into your cell phone? It’s usually not a text or a phone call! Typically, you are “filling time” with an app that entertains or, more likely, simply distracts.
This is a hard step for most people. Firstly, remember when you do this that nothing on a smartphone is permanent (unless you drop it into water). You have backups of your apps and you can reinstall them. But resist the urge to do that! Apps are, by their nature, designed to be addictive. App developers, much like websites, make revenue based on how much time you spend using their app.
In today’s smartphone age, we suspect this will be the media reduction activity where you actively “jones” the most for the apps when they’re gone. Give it at least three weeks app-free before you evaluate what you “need” on your phone and what you don’t. After all, you need to go through detox!
11. Car Time is Quiet Time
Stop and think about what happens when you get into your car. At a minimum, chances are that you’re playing music. But it may be much more media exposure than that. Are you using your smartphone in the car? Are there dvd players in the car for you or others? Here’s a simple rule for media consumption reduction: car time is quiet time.
Remember, not only is your time in the car a good time to silence your brain and step away from the media barrage, it’s also not a safe time to be using media. The press coverage has been about the danger of texting in the car, but the reality is that anything that distracts you from the road and, more specifically, the other drivers on it makes your driving less safe for you and anybody whom you have in the car. There’s a double benefit to the “Car Time is Quiet Time” rule. It reduces media exposure and it makes you and others safer!
12. Stock Up on Books!
Whatever will you do with your time when you’re not in front of media screens? We’ve got suggestions coming up in our next tip, but for now we’d like to re-introduce you to an old friend: Books! What do you love about what you see on TV, YouTube and more? You love that it engages you on some level. Books do the same thing. Stock up on books before you begin your media diet reduction and pick one up when you get the urge to “tune in.”
There’s some debate among purists about whether reading a book on a tablet like an iPad or Kindle counts as “media screen time” or “book time.” We’ll let you make the determination for yourself, because being a Postconsumer is largely about making your own determinations about limits and satisfaction. From our end, using a screen to read a book is just fine as long as it’s without ads in the book and, more importantly, as long as you put the screen down when you’re done reading instead of surfing all over the internet on it!
13. Find Other Ways to Spend Your Media Time
So, what do you do now that you’re not spending so much time in front of a screen? The options are limitless! We could give you a list of literally a hundred things to do instead of sticking your face in a screen, but instead we thought we’d give you some categories to think about and then you can find activities that support those goals.
Improve Your Body: Being in front of a screen is, by nature, a sedentary activity. Consider replacing your sedentary activity with an active one! Whether it’s walking, gym time, a sport or relaxing yoga spend your screen time on “ab time!”
Improve Your Mind: Books aren’t the only way to improve your mind. Replace screen time with puzzles, classes at your local community center or college or trips to lectures or art events.
Create Things: Everybody is artistic in some way. Translate your time spent staring at things other people created into time to create your own art, sweaters, words or even recipes. Make a list of how you “create” and then make a list of activities that support that.
Meet People: Get involved! Volunteer, join MeetUp groups or attend lectures and discussions. Instead of getting intimate with a screen, get intimate with people.
14. Transition to Live Board Games
For some people, the main culprit of screen time is online or even video games. Games are fun, but remember that all games (even offline ones) are designed to be addictive. So when you start playing a game that involves a tablet, computer, television or smartphone, you’re actively increasing screen time and building on an addiction to that screen time. And many games actually include consumer ads in them!
What’s the alternative? Consider good old fashioned board games or individual puzzles. Not only will you be reducing time in front of media outlets, but you’ll be able to play with others and enjoy being social. Organize game nights or set up a chess game against yourself. Either way, you’re getting the thrill of the game, the exercise of the brain and the reduction of media use at the same time.
15. Make It a Team Event
Every large change that you make in your life is easier if you don’t do it alone. Finding a friend or like-minded individuals who are willing to work with you to help you (and them) reduce media usage is a fantastic way to increase your chances of success. If you’re part of a family, make it a family goal.
It’s important to remember when teaming up to reduce media usage that every individual sets their own ideas of what Media Free or Media-Less is. Your goals may be different from another person’s, but the important thing is that you all support each other’s efforts. We’ve got lots of tips for how to team up for Postconsumerism. They’ll work just as well when you team up to reduce media addiction and use.
16. Reward Yourself
The carrot is always better than the stick! There’s nothing wrong with finding ways to reward yourself when you meet your media and screen time reduction goals. What you choose to reward yourself with should fall in line with your own views on Postconsumerism, but it should also be something that entices and motivates you.
What are some great rewards? Reward yourself with small slices of more media time. Reward yourself with a trip to the spa or a great meal out. Reward yourself with an entire vacation if you want to go really big! Of course, you can also reward yourself with purchases. Just make them responsible and don’t let them be the start of a slippery slope into addictive consumerism and too much “stuff.” After all, while there are many benefits to reducing your overall media consumption, we’re recommending it because its primary benefit is to distance yourself from the consumer media machine.
17. Ask to Be Seated Away from the TV
Reducing media exposure in your life would be easier if the only place that had screens (in particular televisions) was your home. After all, it’s fairly easy to take control of what goes on in your own home. It’s much harder to control what goes on in the outside world, and we all know that just about every waiting room, restaurant and bar has a television screen running in it all day long.
Waiting rooms are often an easier place to manage since you can simply choose to sit somewhere further away from the screen, but restaurants and bars can be tougher. While, in reality, there’s only so much that you can do, you do have some control. Particularly in restaurants, always ask to be seated as far away from the television as possible! You’ll have better dinner conversation and keep your distance from the media machine at the same time.
18. Choose Other Options for Background Noise
For many people, the reason that the radio, streaming internet or television runs so often is that they need (or want) background noise at all times. We’ll leave it to you to determine if you want to minimize your need for background noise. However, if you want background noise but want to reduce screen time at the same time, there are options out there!
Remember when we said that not all smartphone apps are bad? There are several smartphone apps out there that simulate the sound of busy cafes, burning logs, rainstorms or even jungle noises. You can also consider a white noise machine that creates the sound of static behind you. Also, music can play a role in your life without it being an overkill of media. Select ways to listen to your media that don’t include commercials in the middle. Yes, that means albums or downloads usually.
What’s the takeaway here? There are plenty of ways to create background noise without having media running all day! And, you may even want to think about whether you want to reduce your need for background noise entirely.
19. Be Social!
The best way to not be in front of a media screen is simply to be somewhere else! There isn’t anybody we know whose life couldn’t be at least mildly enhanced by making an effort to be out and about with people more often. Whether that means organizing events with your existing circle of friends and family or whether it means getting involved and meeting new people by volunteering, joining groups or attending classes, being with people is better than being with your screen.
Being social isn’t as easy for everybody as it is for some people, but in most larger towns or cities you can always find a group of people that share a passion and want to focus on it together. Do your research, ask around and then get out and enjoy the world of the living!
20. Spread the Word (Without Being Judgmental)
The last step in learning to reduce media consumption in your life is to help others do the same. Just be sure to do it in a way that isn’t judgmental. Remember, unlike topics like climate changes and diet and obesity, the impact of screen time isn’t a topic that most people hear or talk about that much. However, the impact can be just as great and just as detrimental (except of course for the current danger to human civilization from climate change). Tell people about your goal and progress and offer to give them tips to do the same. But don’t be pushy! People rarely embrace change when it’s forced upon them.
Become an advocate for reducing media in small ways and you’ll almost certainly see people beginning to embrace it in larger ways, later!
Photo Credit: Daniel Y. Go via Flickr