Dave’s Desk@Ditch: Casting My Vote for Less Screen Time

Call it what you want, but this past week I came down with what can only be described as a serious case of “technology overload.” I’m sure that many readers, especially educators like me who’ve been immersed in remote teaching, are rather familiar with it. The symptoms appear fairly obvious to the casual observer: a glazed-over zombie-like stare, poor posture combined with muscle or joint fatigue from, let’s be honest, doing nothing that’s physically challenging for weeks on end, and of course frequent daytime napping to make up for lost sleep, to name just a few. 

Though these indicators are far less severe than those who’ve experienced Covid-19, they are nonetheless an unwelcome byproduct of life during a pandemic that many of us have been experiencing with increased frequency.

For a significant portion of each day (mind you, I’d normally be leading a dozen and a half preschoolers in a resounding chorus of “Wheels on the Bus” or combing the perimeter of the playground, collecting bugs with a handful of eager explorers), I instead find myself in multi-task overdrive, toggling back-and-forth between a laptop, personal computer, iPad and cell phone. In all honesty, I haven’t felt comfortable consuming this much information in such a manner since our program began laying the groundwork for the new school year back in late-August. Every staff meeting, every workshop, every class; all being conducted remotely on screens.

In an article written for the online magazine HuffPost, author and business strategist Ayelet Baron shares some insight into this phenomena by declaring: “As if we’ve become machines ourselves, it seems as though many of us have utterly forgotten what it is that makes us human. Certainly it cannot be the ritual of going to work, coming home to do more work, and complaining about what makes us feel alive; so why is it, then, that is how we spend the majority of our finite expendable time here on earth?” 

In many instances, such as mine, it’s a particular position within our vocation that has forced such a migration on-line in order to maintain some sense of consistency. Where we used to perform tasks rather routinely by engaging face-to-face with others, we’re now doing so by utilizing various forms of technology as a substitute. That part I can understand, as it is temporary — a matter of safety and purely out of caution while a pandemic wreaks havoc throughout the populace. 

What I find most perplexing, though, are the aggregate number of hours spent on-line prior to or soon afterwards, forgoing any and all opportunities for in-person engagement. 

In a piece that appeared in The Washington Post only months prior to the virus outbreak in this country, psychologist Doreen Dodgen-Magee concluded the following: “The research is clear: Americans spend most of their waking hours interacting with screens. The average adult in the United States spends more than 11 hours a day in the digital world, according to research by the Nielsen Company.” 

She later adds: “Technology now reaches deep into our psyches and our lives. Our constant interaction with the digital domain shapes the way we learn and the way we form relationships with others and ourselves.”

Indeed, that may be the case, which begs the question: How is it that we can succumb to being so easily co-opted by an inanimate system of platforms and communication sources that literally reap from us our uniquely human identity?  

That’s the part I’ve struggled with most during this paradigm shift to all things technological. 

Having chosen to leave the corporate world of my own volition some two decades ago, nearly every year since has been spent educating and empowering young, at-risk or special needs children in a classroom setting. It is where I feel most comfortable sharing those gifts which are solely unique to my Being, and most likely the reason I’ve been so reluctant to fully embrace this newer model. 

Not until recently did I begin reclaiming some of that lost identity, simply by reconnecting in-person with a few of the parents and children, albeit from a safe distance with each of us wearing proper protective gear. It was a small personal victory that would hardly be noticed by any others who were present that afternoon, yet it was a big step towards recapturing some of my old self that has been desperately lacking these last several months.

Dave Davis

Dave Davis teaches preschool for the Head Start program at the Children’s Museum of the East End in Bridgehampton. Two of his pieces, “Always Be the Water” and “All Things Considered,” appear in the 2016 anthology “On Montauk: A Literary Celebration.”

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