Monday, September 30, 2013

Day 141 - Giving Up Visual Media (for a week)

I have never lived without visual media. By that, I mean since I was a child television, movies, and eventually the internet have been a part of my routine. In my youngest years television and movies served as a source of stimulus and education as I grew from a baby to a child, and they continued to be a part of my daily life as I grew into adulthood and ultimately reached my 31st year. Stated plainly, television, movies, and other visual media have been omnipresent in my life. Realizing I could choose to forego using these devices if I really wanted to do so, I would periodically throw around the idea of what it would be like to "unplug" from visual media for awhile and see how its absence would change my life. However, each time such a thought would cross my mind I would acknowledge the degree of reliance I had developed on such sources of entertainment and communication over the course of my life. As a result, I would tuck the idea away as a ridiculous concept and continue using the television and computers as I always had. As far as I was concerned, television, movies, and other sources of visual media were simply unavoidable, and I wasn't about to try to change that.

Of course, in a year of new experiences such convictions are bound to be challenged, which brings me to today's "I have never..." experience and the second week long sub-challenge of my "I have never..." year. With my objective of exploring new things for the sake of self-discovery guiding me, I decided this year provided the perfect motivation to finally figure out what it would be like, more or less, to live without visual media. In turn, I made a plan to give up television, movies, social media and other forms of visual entertainment for a week during my "I have never..." year. Eventually, that objective caused me to narrow in on this week as the week to make it possible. As a result, I intend to avoid television, movies, and any other forms of visual media this week, with the only exceptions coming in the form of work obligations and making updates to this blog. Although I'm not looking forward to the likely void that will come with the absence of the familiar forms of visual entertainment, I know this week will give me plenty of opportunities to use my new free time for other, better purposes. This should be an interesting week. I just hope I have the wherewithal to make it happen for a full week.

Day 1:
Today was odd. Throughout the day I caught myself reaching for familiar sources of information and entertainment that rely on television and other forms of visual media almost exclusively. As a result, I had a few close calls with breaking my "I have never..." sub-challenge on the very first day I was trying the new experience. Luckily, I stopped myself just before I accessed the usual forms of visual media that are so readily accessible in the modern era. It was a constant battle to avoid the habits and forms of muscle memory I have developed around the use of a smartphone, accessing the internet, and turning on the television during my moments of downtime. Everything in my body was telling me to look forward to the routines surrounding these devices, but I forced myself to avoid them throughout the entire day.

Additionally, a trip to run some errands this evening opened my eyes to the constant barrage of visual stimulus we encounter in our daily lives. Perhaps I have become progressively more immune to the presence of such sources as they have become more prevalent, but now that I'm actively aware of their presence I couldn't help but notice the screens, videos, and internet-based resources that are everywhere in modern life. In fact, I actually had to think about how to finish my errands in a way that permitted me to avoid visual media altogether. It was a task to keep my eyes off of such sources of information and media as I worked through the aisles of my shopping trips. There were literally television screens and monitors hanging from walls, lining store shelves, and demanding consumers' attention at every turn. Although I eventually figured out a way to get through my errands with my "I have never..." goal intact, it was hard not to feel overwhelmed by the ubiquity of visual media in everyday life.

With the night starting to wind down after arriving home tonight, I turned on the radio and listened to the news of the day. With the monotone sounds of new anchors carrying through the otherwise quiet house, it was easy to draw comparisons to a bygone era where the radio served as the primary source of entertainment in the everyday lives of people. As Rachael and I relaxed and worked on some independent tasks into the night, the radio provided a backdrop as the hours passed. The feeling was strange and a little bit empty in a way, which made me realize the extent to which the television and the internet occupy my time on a daily basis. While I don't feel it yet, I'm sure this week will give me some valuable perspective on the value of time spent on such devices each day. I just need to get more familiar with their absence before I will be able to focus on any sort of value the lack of their presence brings.

Day 2:
I found it a little easier to deal with foregoing visual media today, but there are still plenty of challenges presented by their absence. Particularly, I'm beginning to feel out of touch with current events going on around my city and my nation. While the newspaper at my office did give me some background on the previous day's events, it was painfully obvious I was unaware of ongoing news events as the day progressed. As someone normally up to speed on breaking news, I found myself unaware of the topics being discussed by some of my co-workers as the workday moved into the afternoon. With the biggest focus being placed on the developing story of the government shutdown, I tried to pick up information from others where I could, but ultimately realized I would consistently be a day behind on the news for as long as I stayed away from visual media.

This evening proved a little easier given Rachael and I went out to grab a bite to eat when I arrived home from work. With beautiful weather continuing in the earliest days of Autumn, we decided to eat outside so I could avoid any form of visual media that may have been present in the restaurant's interior.  By the time we finished our meal and made it home it was already 8:30 pm, which made it easy to settle in for the night without any strong desire to turn on the television or get on the internet. To fill the time before bed I simply turned on the radio again and tried to get caught up on the day's events. To my surprise, it was actually a relaxing way to end the day, and it made me ready to fall asleep earlier than my usual bedtime. With that, I realized an added benefit of foregoing visual media this week may be an unforeseen opportunity to get caught up on my sleep. If that's the case, I just might give up television, movies, and the internet a little more often.

Day 3:
I fared relatively well on my third day without television, video, and internet media, but the day presented a slew of instances that made me realize the challenges of living without visual media in the modern world. Specifically, determining the address for tonight's "I have never..." event and checking the weather for Thursday proved nearly impossible without using the internet or the television. Luckily, the first issue was resolved when I realized I had written down the address of the location for the Diamond Way Buddhist Center, but I found myself having to "cheat" a bit on checking the weather by having Rachael look it up on her phone. Although it felt as though I was bending the rules a bit, I figured asking her to take a look for me was roughly equivalent to asking someone in passing conversation. Of course, that may just be me trying to justify my actions,but it is better than the alternative of failing outright during my ongoing "I have never..." sub-challenge.

Although the day presented some challenges, this evening helped me refocus on the feasibility of going the rest of the week without visual media. Some dinner plans with a friend and my first experience with meditation occupied enough of my time that I found myself with little spare time. As a result, the idea of perusing the internet or sitting down to watch television never crossed my mind; even when Rachael decided to turn on the TV toward the end of the night. As she settled in and watched a show, I happily excused myself to the dining room and spent some time writing and wrapping up my day until she was finished. While I admittedly had some desire to sink into the sofa and gloss over in front of the TV, it wasn't a challenge for me to pass on doing so. I was able to busy myself until it was time for bed, and that was good enough to help me stave off any strong desire to give up on my challenge. Now, I just have to wait to see if that perspective remains tomorrow.

Day 4:
Realizing I was more than half way through my week without visual media gave me some motivation to keep pushing forward with my "I have never..." sub-challenge today. That stated, I must admit I'm growing a bit tired of living without television, video, and internet. It is not that the absence of these forms of media makes me feel like something is missing, rather the absence of these forms of media makes me feel like I am missing out on nearly everything. I have never felt so disconnected in my life. I am out of the loop with current events, I am outside the main channels of communication used by my family and friends, and I am missing tools and resources I use in my life nearly everyday. In an era of convenience, I am bound to the inconvenient, dated methods of communication, research, and entertainment of bygone eras. Basically, I have warped backward in time while the rest of the world around me keep trudging forward.

Needless to say, today was a tough day without social media. I actually found myself somewhat frustrated throughout the day as I encountered problems I knew had easy resolutions with tools I couldn't use. Case in point, as I was trying to prepare for this weekend's events I needed to determine how much time to allocate to drive to a location. While I knew I could easily get this information online, my "I have never..." sub-challege forced me to track down a map, do my best to estimate the mileage between points, and run the math to determine an estimated travel time. In another example, making some efforts to plan an alternative "I have never..." event for a day left vacant by a change in plans proved nearly impossible without internet access. I had little I could do other than look at magazines, local papers, and some brochures Rachael picked up around town to find a suitable event. Luckily, Rachael was kind enough to do a little research on my behalf and help me track down a new "I have never..." event for the vacant day. Without her, I don't know what I would have done to fix the problem.

Being stripped of familiar resources and modern sources of information sucks. There is no other way to describe it. At this point, it goes without saying that I am looking forward to the end of this week. Regaining access to forms of visual media will be more than a simple return to the norm, it will be a relief. Monday can't get here soon enough...

Day 5:
Today's workday and tonight's trip to the Wisconsin State Historical Museum provided good distractions from the continued absence of visual media in my life. Although my goal I had to avoid the few video displays at the museum tonight, the bulk of the displays were physical items from periods of Wisconsin's past, which were more than enough to keep me interested and occupied. However, upon arriving home tonight I immediately slipped back into a state of subtle frustration at the challenges a lack of television, video, and internet pose in keeping my life organized and in occupying my free time. Specifically, the inability to get a current weather forecast, the inability to research information for tomorrow's "I have never..." event, and the fact that Rachael spent to majority of the night on watching videos and checking feeds online left me feeling completely disconnected yet again.

With that in mind. I guess it could be worse. At least I still have the radio to feed me some sorts of information about what is going on in the world around me... but it still can't help me get directions.

Day 6:
A busy day kept me away from visual media with relative ease until this evening when a visit from my good friend, Ryan, took us out on the town. Everywhere we went televisions were blasting football games in the direction of every seat we took. In turn, I did my best to sit at angles where the screens were left at my peripherals as to maintain my goal. As the night pressed on I found myself being successful in avoiding visual media, but topics of discussion and the frequent reliance on smartphones by all those around made me wish I had some resources back in my possession. Eventually, that perspective made me cave on one portion of my week-long goal when I accessed social media on my phone to look up a recent conversation between a friend and me. Honestly, I didn't realize I was breaking one part of my goal until it was too late. It just happened, and although I felt guilty about it, I ultimately accepted the fact that it happened and gave myself a bit of credit for avoiding social media for nearly six days.

With the last day of my visual media challenge right around the corner, I can say I'm very happy this one is drawing to a close. Although I can say the experience has taught me I'm not necessarily reliant on visual media, it has taught me life is much easier with them at my disposal. If anything, the biggest takeaway from the experience is that I shouldn't take television, video, internet access, and other forms of visual media for granted. I'm lucky to live a life that presents the opportunity to have such luxuries, and I'm happy this experience gave me that reminder.

As I write this I am less than 24 hours away from the end of my goal. Tomorrow is another busy day with a lot of travel planned. That should make it easy to last through the end of my visual-media-free week, which ends a little before 9:00 pm tomorrow. Sure, I had a slip today, but I know the rest of this week should be a breeze. Let's see what tomorrow brings.

Day 7:
Today's "I have never..." event, seeing the Broadway performance of The Book of Mormon, made the final day of my visual media sub-challege a breeze. After getting ready this morning, Ryan and I spent several hours on the road making the trip to Chicago for the performance. Once we arrived, we made our way to the theatre and watched the show, which was one of the most hilarious performances of any kind I have ever seen. The subsequent drive home was unexpectedly long at nearly three and a half hours, causing us to arrive home around 8:30 tonight. By the time we unloaded the car, got in the house, and had a bite to eat I realized the end of my week without visual media had quietly come to an end unnoticed. Surprisingly, I found myself feeling someone indifferent about the conclusion, which made me think living without visual media really wasn't as bad as I thought it would be.

This "I have never..." sub-challege was relatively challenging one, but I'm glad I did it. Overall, it was insightful and provided me some great perspective on how I live my day to day life. I recognize this experience will likely help me remove the frequency of visual media in my life, but I'm happy the week has come to an end. Welcome back to my life, modern technology. It was strange living without you...

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