Screen-Free Suggestions

August 11, 2014


Hello, friend! And hello to the screen you are reading this on.

“Men have become the tools of their tools,” said Thoreau, long before the Internet ate the world. I can only imagine what he would say today. Probably… the same thing.

Many moons ago, on a visit to the American Museum of Natural History, the boyfriend spent too much time looking at his tiny mobile screen and not enough time basking in the glory of the fossilized dinosaurs. In an attempt to recapture his attention, I called him “device-a-saurus” and made up a lovely docent-style narration to go along with it. Thus a nickname was born.

These days, however, device-a-saurus has become rather excellent at managing his device. He’ll leave it at home when we go out to dinner and turn it off before going to bed. In an unexpected turn of events, he’s now the one encouraging me to leave my phone behind.

A couple weeks ago, the boyfriend was drifting off to sleep while I sat mere inches away, maniacally pinning things on Pinterest. “Hello! I am a human person,” he croaked. “Pay attention to me.” In a terrifying moment of clarity, I realized: I had become the device-a-saurus. It was time for a change.


Even when I’m NOT scouring the web for information, there is just too much to follow, too many bites to comprehend. It’s hard to accomplish anything when your brain is consumed with an average of 174 newspapers’ worth of information on a typical day.

Last weekend, I managed to take a little staycation: I completely avoided technology and read a lot of books.

It was wonderful. I highly recommend it.

Though my livelihood is closely tied to staring into screens of various sizes (and though I really REALLY want you to keep visiting this site) I think we’d all benefit from taking a hefty step away from our devices. To get the ball rolling, here are a few of my favorite activities that take place in the actual, 4-D world.

Go for a stroll.
This sounds so obvious, but it really isn’t. How many times are you headed somewhere on foot but spend half the time checking your phone, or else talking on said phone, listening to music, or engaging in some other distracted behavior? This may be walking, but it is not relaxing. So go for a stroll instead. Meander somewhere at your own special pace, smile at doggies, remember that you are alive.

Visit a psychic.
Because why not? Google is not the only place to go for answers.

Purchase things that are not electronics.
Or, if you’re on a budget, browse. Try out some beauty products. Go to a bookstore and bask in all of the papery goodness. Buy some cards and write notes to your friends and family. If you have a significant other, send a love letter to their office, where its arrival will come as a sweet surprise. Email schmemail; let’s give our postal workers something pretty to deliver.

Wield a tool!
There is not enough wielding of tools these days. When is the last time you used, say, a garden hoe? Or dug a giant hole with a shovel? Or built a tree house for squirrels? Or knitted a smiling donut made of yarn? Use thy hands for something other than typing.

Spend time with an animal.
A real animal. (i.e. Not a baby Corgi on Pinterest or one of the many sloth meme round-ups on Buzzfeed.) This can be your own pet, a friend’s pet, or one of the many dogs tied up outside various establishments by their irresponsible owners who care not about dognappers. Better yet, spend some time volunteering at a shelter. Animals are 1,000 times better than things with screens because they love you back.

Read something.
A paper something. A book, a magazine, a zine, a newspaper, a graphic novel… whatever. Bonus points if the reading happens in a relaxing, natural environment like a yard or a park. There’s something so refreshing about spending time with the creative fruits of people’s brains—outside the influence of “likes” or the minefield of Amazon reviews—where you can just appreciate their work for what it is.

Move around for 20 minutes.
I’m loath to be like “go exercise!” because that’s the kind of suggestion I would completely ignore. The gym smells like feet. But studies show that moving around for just 20 minutes can help improve your mood and raise your happiness levels. So do whatever form of movement makes you happiest. (Walking counts. So does walking… to get tacos.)

Connect—for real—with a human being.
This means you have to hug them. Or at the very least, sit on the other side of a table from them and share a coffee or a glass of wine and some meaningful conversation. If all of your friends are busy staring at their own devices (because it happens), then get a manicure or a massage or something.


Love, your friend on the other side of the screen,

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  • I`m from Portugal and I found your blog through A Cup of Jo.
    I just would like to tell you that I`m on the “other side” of the screen reading your blog and sharing your way of thinking. Simple things are always the best! Extra-bonus: most of them are free, inspiring and meaningful.

  • Hi Caroline! I’ve been reading your blog for a few months now and I just love it. Totally agree with what everything you’re saying here, and that NYT article you linked to was definitely a real eye-opener.

  • This is so true! I’ve noticed I have a load of apps that I have on rotation, and when I get to the end of the circuit, instead of putting the device down, I tend to start over again (where invariably nothing has changed in the space of 10 minutes). Definitely need to make more effort to live in the real world! She says while blogging and reading from said device…

    Kat x

  • Caroline, you are so right. One of my best friends is a phone addict, and it’s always driven me crazy. I think it took spending Feb.-Jun. of this year traveling and working abroad (with a 8+ hour timezone change, non-smartphone and very expensive phone minutes) to really appreciate how much I loved disconnecting and living a phone-free life. When I got back, my phone didn’t work, so I still wasn’t checking a device constantly, besides my computer when I felt like turning it on. Now, a couple months later, smartphone in pocket, I find myself falling into that deep, dark hole of checking it all the time. (I’m looking at you, Instagram!) So, essentially, after my trademark wordiness, thank you for this timely reminder to turn my phone off and just walk my dog in silence. And maybe buy those running shoes so I can contemplate becoming one of those people who goes on runs…

    • Kat & Claire – I completely understand. Sometimes it feels like foreign vacations and broken phones are the only times I can actually relax. The siren song of unchecked data is just too strong to ignore!

  • Hi Caroline,

    I’m a photographer and trying to do my masters thesis – and I spend most of my time in front of at least 2 screens.

    Recently I’ve taken up puzzles. Last night I finished a particularly tough one of The Beatles which let me completely zone out, meditate and relax.