Organize & Clean

Carolyn’s Cure: Reflections on a Semi-Failed Media Fast

published Jan 15, 2014
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(Image credit: Carolyn Purnell)

I tried my best. I truly did. But my media fast ended up less like a fast and more like an enjoyable night with a few computer-driven diversions. I still think that I managed to get into the spirit of the thing though, and in the process, I’ve gathered a bit of insight into my habits.

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When I finished with work for the day, I prepared a quick dinner, fully intending to enjoy a few moments of solitude and quiet. Because my partner is out of town for work, I was eating by myself, which is a rare occasion and one I wanted to consider as a luxurious treat. Yet when I sat down to eat, my first instinct was to turn on Netflix. I noticed the twinge, and while I resisted, I was uncomfortable with just how bored I felt while I ate alone in silence. Can I really not enjoy a meal without the added stimulation of conversation or television? I kept trying to focus on being in the moment, but ultimately, it was just an exercise in frustration since I was ever-mindful of my failure to be mindful. Yet, upon reflection, this experience led me to a necessary realization.

For most of my life, I was not a TV addict. I didn’t even own a TV when I moved in with my partner, and I only had cable for 3 months during a promotional deal, after which I opted not to renew. But during graduate school, I became a serious Netflix junkie. During meals or study breaks, I’d cram in TV shows in 10-15 minute increments (a habit that still bewilders my partner). In high school and college, I read fiction for my primary diversion, but during my grad work, since I read and wrote all day long, there was something deeply satisfying about turning off that part of my brain. TV was the easiest way for me to relax for a few moments after an intense dissertation session.

But now that I have more regular work hours, I find that this habit is still there, and watching Netflix has become my default activity. I no longer draw, sing, or write fiction — all of which I used to do in my free time. I’m not an idle person; home projects, chores, and socializing still fill much of my time. But increasingly, I have begun to fill the leftover spaces with TV instead of other “me-time” activities.

At heart, I feel that there’s nothing wrong with this. Diversion and entertainment are wonderful, and I’m not a crusader out to treat television as an unequivocal vice. But I think that when any single activity becomes the default, it’s all too easy to forget that there are other options. I don’t want to excise TV entirely, but I do want to change up my routine enough so that I remember that other options are available to me.

During my media fast, I managed to avoid TV, my cell phone, my iPad, and social media. But I did kind of fail because what I opted to do with my newfound time was to write and to work on a plan for a book that I’ve long been considering writing. My computer was my constant companion, but it didn’t feel like cheating since it was a type of use that my MacBook hasn’t gotten in quite some time.

How about you? How did your fast go?