My Week of Media Deprivation

On the first day I danced while doing the dishes.

I approached the week of media deprivation with only mild curiosity. I didn’t have high expectations, but I also didn’t have much else to do. In the end I figured, why not?

I don’t even know if it really counted, the week of media deprivation. I was texting with people and I read The BFG aloud to my daughter. In the end I only had a few emails to read and respond to. Really, I was abstaining from blogs, audiobooks and podcasts. To be fair, I do spend quite a bit of every day listening to and reading stuff, so even with the texts and read-aloud with my daughter, it felt like I was attempting media deprivation of some sort.

Music was allowed, which was a relief because running with nothing would have been wretched. The thing is I don’t listen to music anymore, like hardly ever. It used to be such a tremendously important part of my life, but as the years have passed I stopped listening to melodies and started listening to stories.

On the first day I stared at Spotify for fifteen minutes; I had no idea what I should listen to.

Then I pulled up a Spanish song one of my students shared last year that I remembered liking and listened to that. It was great. I listened to it again. I listened to more songs by that artist. Before I knew it I was dancing around my kitchen.

I never dance. It’s just not something I like doing, but that first day I couldn’t help myself. It was fun.

I had to admit that I never would have danced in my kitchen if I weren’t trying to avoid reading, and I decided that maybe there really was something to this media deprivation idea.

On the second day I noticed houses I’d never seen before on the walk to the train station. Houses I’ve passed a hundred times in the past four years, that somehow I never really saw. I noticed other things too. Beautiful things. Magical things. Ordinary things that upon greater inspection were actually extraordinary.

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I heard birds, smelled flowers, caught glimpses of conversations that piqued my interest. I looked into the faces of the people that passed me on the sidewalk. I actually experienced the world around me. What a concept!

On the third day I invented games with my kids at the playground. I talked to them while I pushed them on the swings and chased after them instead of looking down at my phone.

On the fourth day I finished a puzzle in silence. I was really itching to read or watch something that night, but I knew I shouldn’t. I had done all the dishes for my husband, hoping we could hang out, but he was busy with other stuff so I had him make me a cocktail and I pulled out a 200 piece puzzle of the solar system that we had never attempted. Then I slowly, methodically, finished it (and the cocktail) without saying a word. It was an extremely meditative experience.

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On the fifth day I went out to dinner with my husband and had really great sex. I realized it was easier to be present and engaged in a conversation when I didn’t have so much random information bouncing around in my head. We also had a lot to talk about because I was totally ignorant of all the interesting things that had been happening in the world that week. It was one of the more genuinely enjoyable conversations we’ve had in a long while. Then we went home, put our kids to bed, and had some fantastic sex–which I attribute to the feelings of affection and connection inspired by the great conversation at dinner.

On the sixth day I chatted with friends at the park for three hours. All week I was much more inclined to reach out to people and make plans knowing that I couldn’t fall back on “interacting with others” by reading and commenting on blogs. I ended up having lunch with one friend, coffee with another, taking a walk with a third and meeting up for playdate with some more. I don’t know if I would have prompted any of those meet-ups if I’d had blogs and audiobooks to distract me and help stave off the loneliness.

On the seventh day I ran my fastest tempo splits of my half-marathon training. I had been perfecting a mix of great songs to run to and I noticed that I run faster to music that pushes me than I do when I’m listening to audiobooks or podcasts. Running with music is much more meditative (I don’t really think about anything except my body in that moment) and I feel more invigorated after I run with music than I do if I’m listening to talking of some kind.

Yesterday morning I woke up excited to be able to read again, but quickly felt overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of words and ideas bouncing around in my head. I really do think that all the reading I do makes me significantly more distracted and less aware of my actual life. Knowing so much about everyone else’s experiences makes it hard for me to unravel how I feel about my own. That is not to say that I get nothing positive from writing here and reading blogs and listening to audiobooks, but I know now that I have to drastically overhaul the ways in which I consume other people’s words to take advantage of the good while avoiding the bad. I’m not quite sure what changes I’m going to make, but I am sure that I don’t want to go back to consuming media in the ways I used to. I’ve felt more settled and less anxious in the past week than I have in a long time, and I hope to find a way to protect this feeling, while still enjoying the connective power of the written word. There has to be a way to balance the good and the bad. I will keep you informed of my attempts.

Would you consider a week of media deprivation? What do you think you’d learn?

24 Comments

    1. The downside was I was bored and felt antsy a lot. I didn’t play much Solitaire, probably the same or maybe even less than I played before. I didn’t really pick up my phone as much, since so much of what I do on my phone is read. It was kind of a break from my phone as much as anything.

      I also forgot to mention that I watched a few hours of TV with my husband at the end because I didn’t want the media deprivation keeping me from enjoying time with him. If I’d been stricter about that it would have been a negative. But I didn’t watch TV alone, and I usually watch more alone than with him.

  1. What an endorsement! Would you consider doing it for longer to see if the benefits continue/enhance? I think I need to try this and see where it takes me (but not right now, I need the distraction and comfort of others’ words at the moment)

    1. I would consider doing it for longer. I actually did. I might do something like the diet where you fast for two days every week and not consume media for 2-3 days a week. That is one of the things I’ve been considering moving forward.

  2. I remember in my first year women’s studies class, we were asked to do a similar assignment. However, this one was much more restrictive: no music, no television, no radio on the drive to work, no texting (spare necessary arranging of assignments etc), no phone calls (unless an emergency), and I can’t remember but it might have been no news media either. Basically, the only thing allowed was books. Did I mention I was a communications student at the time??

    I got about three or four days into the week and then said “to hell with this” and wrote the reflective essay in much the same tone. Was not surprised to get a C back! My main beef with the media blackout was the implication that I didn’t realize what role media played in my life (to be fair, it was a first year class and I’m sure this was illuminating for some). I’m equally sure I could have faked the essay and pretended to finish the assignment, but that felt totally disingenuous.

    I learned that music is the thing that keeps me calm, and news/radio is imperative for me to stay informed and tuned into my world. Aside from that, I have no issues being without these things for stretches of time, and if I’m with a human being that’s my priority, not my phone. Long story short, I would not attempt another media blackout, unless I felt seriously compromised by the role of it in my life (ie, if social media were significantly contributing to my depression or anxiety).

    (Eventually, I did get an A in the class and my professor and I shared a lot of good talks. He eventually forgave me for calling his assignment stupid, lol)

    1. The implication of this “assignment” was not that we don’t know what role media plays in our lives, but more that if we aren’t always consuming other ideas we might have some surprising ideas of our own. It’s really just to provide some space to have our own thoughts, at least that is how I understood it. It’s clearly not for everyone.

  3. This is so interesting! I am slowly weaning myself from phone, which needs to happen. I am actually going through a painful separation from my husband (hence a new blog noted below that is anonymous – no post yet) – for many reasons I don’t think I can share online it is a separation that HAS to happen – and is supported by my family and his – but I’ve been wallowing in the time leading up to this, the crisis, and now, the aftermath – that starting today I am making a concerted effort to concentrate on the media I do enjoy – watch a whole tv show with my phone in the other room so I don’t see texts from him, return to reading books, etc. Exercise and cooking are of course in there as well. Thanks for sharing your update!

    1. I think making deliberate choices about the media we consume can be very powerful. I hope avoiding some stuff can help make getting through this painful separation a little more manageable. I’m sorry for your loss.

  4. Please do not stop blogging. I am finding this summer … and I expect through Nov… difficult. You and your responders ground me back to reality. Thank you.

  5. I’m so glad it was helpful. I think I’m going to have to change my screen time radically soon. I want my life back and I feel so isolated (am so isolated?) so the screens are a decent way to feel connected while maybe being connected or not so much. Things to consider.

    1. It’s funny because a lot of people argue that FB and blogs prevent a feeling of isolation. I used to believe that too. Now I’m not as sure. I’m still trying to figure that one out, to be honest, because when blogs and social media are my primary connection to others I think I feel more isolated than when I’m forced to look for other ways to interact with people. But I know we can’t always find other ways to interact with people… Again, I’m just not sure yet how I feel about it all.

  6. I’m intrigued to know your running list! I only ever work out to music. Podcasts are very hard for me, I’m an extremely visual person, I watch tv on closed caption always, so I could never retain the information if I was distracted by the exercising.

    1. My running list is actually probably pretty boring but I’ll put some of it up later if you want. I’m also a visual person when I’m learning, but for some reason when I exercise the movement keeps my distracted brain engaged enough that I can really focus on books or podcasts. I have a harder time watching TV when I’m working out than listening to stuff. Not sure why that is…

  7. Interesting to read your report on this! No, I wouldn’t try it. I work from home exclusively. I’m on my computer at LEAST 8 hours a day and lately more like 12-16 so it’s totally impractical for me, and when I actually manage to leave to see a friend, or have an appointment like to get my hair done or something the only way I can do that is by having my phone so I can message, email etc.
    However, on the other hand, I’d never walk down the street with my phone so I wasn’t already noticing (as much as I’m prone to anyway) what’s there. Mostly if I walk it’s with my pup and she’s the only thing I really notice. LOL. And, when I’m working this much the ONLY escape I get is a quick peak at news or Facebook or a blog….So, I’m glad it worked for you, but I won’t be trying it. Oh, I have to add my husband also works from home and if we didn’t both read voraciously what would we talk about?

  8. Very interesting. I can identify with your observations about having too many ideas on your head. I like having ideas on my head, but am I actually doing anything with them or are they just making noise?

    I don’t know if I’d go a week without media, but I have been taking mini breaks by walking places instead of driving. I find it so relaxing and I feel so free and even a bit rebellious, in a good way.

    1. One of the things I decided to do moving forward was to walk without my headphones in, which I’ve really enjoyed. I either look around me or make up a story in my head or both. It’s a lot of fun! And so much more relaxing!

  9. Even after talking about this at length together, I still didn’t know just how GOOD it made you feel. Reading this, reading the specific things you noticed being different each day, made me smile. I should try this…. I really should.

    1. It did make me feel good. I don’t think I really realized until I wrote the post actually, how good it make me feel. I should do it again!

  10. Reading this really made me happy. Of course you felt a bit antsy at times – I think it’s called withdrawal! But the dancing in the kitchen, noticing plants and flowers, playing with the kids, great sex with the husband, meditative puzzle … it was all great! It’s a good reminder to us all, I think, that there is such a thing as balance. Trying something new – or cutting out something that can easily make us feel overwhelmed – can help us sort out what we want and what we do as habit. I know I need regular reminders, so thanks!

    1. It really was a good week. I’m glad I did it. And I’m really glad I wrote about it, because I don’t think I realized how awesome it was until I was putting it into words. Isn’t it interesting how we need to process through words to really understand them? I love writing.

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