Roxana Sorooshian, grown unschooler, shares her perspective on the common concern parents have about “screentime.”
I read a lot on a Nook, the nook app on my iPhone, and as PDFs or text files on my laptop. Because I’m using a screen to access those books, they get put into the same category as all other “screen” uses but wouldn’t if I was reading these books in traditional print format? (I’m reading Anna Karenina right now on my nook, Dracula on my phone app, and some Guy de Maupassant short stories on my laptop.)
I spend a lot of time writing, fiction (NaNoWriMo – though I didn’t win this year), papers for grad school, blog posts, conversations with friends—but if I was handwriting these, they wouldn’t “count” as screen time.
I play a lot of games, on my phone as well as my laptop, and these use different kinds and levels of brain power—today I had a really long bus ride back to NorCal, so I played a lot of short, easy, time management and puzzle games on my phone while listening to an audiobook of The Scarlet Pimpernel. Two REALLY different uses of screens.
I watch a lot of movies and TV on my laptop and phone, because it’s a lot easier than the little TV I share with all my roommates in our communal living room. Today I watched Shakespeare’s Henry IV, parts 1 and 2. Then I watched a few episodes of the Food Network’s Chopped. Do these get lumped into the same category even as each other—or the same category as writing my paper on Stalinist-era vs. post-Stalinist productions of Hamlet—or as working on the fantasy novel I started for NaNoWriMo—or as playing social games on Facebook or word puzzles with my mom several hours away from me—or Skyping with my best friend who is in the UK this year—or as reading Anna Karenina (and then Skyping at the aforementioned friend to complain about it)?
If I was watching a live production of Henry IV, that would be cultural, artistic, educational.
Because it’s on a screen, it becomes screen time? (Trust me, if I was lucky enough to get to see this mind-blowingly talented cast do the play live, it would be a really expensive ticket. And it would lack the movie-specific elements like cinematography and a beautiful score that only screen-time movies/tv provide.) If I was reading a printed copy of Anna Karenina, Dracula, or The Scarlet Pimpernel, those are considered classics and worth my time—again, educational and cultured. (Although I could just as easily have been reading the Hunger Games, Harry Potter, and a Tad Williams fantasy novel this week.) If I was playing boggle in person with my mom, that’s allowed to be fine, bonding time, and fun, but playing the phone app with each other means we can do it on our schedule, over the course of several days, and with half a state between us. And none of these fun and voluntary activities should be lumped in together with the hours I’ve spent this week working on grad school papers, just because I prefer NOT to write 70+ pages by hand in this day and age (and, wait, I’m not allowed to turn in handwritten papers anyway, because what professor would possibly want to read that?).
Playing The Sims does not equal watching the newest episode of Scandal does not equal drafting my thesis proposal on the musicals of Sondheim & Prince does not equal relaxing to Bejeweled does not equal reading the blog Feminist Frequency does not equal gleefully searching for news and fan theories on the next season of Sherlock does not equal reading a PDF version of Anna Karenina does not equal doing the social media marketing work I do for a friend’s restaurant does not equal researching 18th century English joke books for a play I worked on recently does not equal writing this way, way too long comment. But I do all of those on a screen—even on the same screen, since I use my laptop for all of those things—so they all get called “screen time” and dismissed as a guilty pleasure and a waste of my time at best—at worst, as something actually rotting my brain and doing some kind of damage to me while taking away from time and energy that should be spent doing Real Stuff. Like, I suppose, seeing
Shakespeare plays, working, discussing feminism, playing games with my family, reading classic novels, listening to music…
I have an idea—let’s call it all ‘eyeball time’. Anything you use your eyes for—reading, painting, visiting a museum or an arboretum or the zoo, playing chess, watching a ballet or opera or play, playing any kind of sport, playing any musical instrument with written sheet music—that’s all eyeball time, and it’s taking away from time you could and should be spending listening, feeling, tasting, smelling. You’re ruining your eyesight staring at the text in that book, or the colors and lines on that painting, or the fish in the aquarium! You only get three hours eyeball time per day, and that’s generous. It doesn’t matter what you’re looking AT, or using your vision for —it’s all through the same medium, your eyes, so it’s all the same, and it should be limited.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a few more chapters of the Scarlet Pimpernel, another episode of The Colbert Report, a few more rounds of Scramble With Friends, and several more pages of grad papers to fill my screen time with.