Today, as I was walking across the Rite-Aid parking lot at my local strip mall, I saw something peculiar.
Peculiar to me, at least.
I saw three boxy red cars in a row. Two SUV’s an an old Geo Prism.
Now, let me explain: red cars are everywhere. There’s nothing remarkable about them and there’s truly no good reason to stare at them, almost achingly, when they’re parked in perfect alignment in a parking lot.
Unless you play Bejeweled.
If you haven’t yet been sucked into this addictive little video puzzle game yet, allow me to explain the basics: there is a sea of jewels on your television (or computer, or iPhone, or iPod) screen. It’s a grid of white spheres, purple triangles, blue diamonds, purple triangles, and…and red squares.
You shuffle the jewels around, exchanging each one with neighboring jewels, with this goal: align three jewels in a row. When you do, they disappear and you’ll accumulate valuable points.
I’ve been playing for hours at a time. But back to the parking lot: three red cars in a row.
Before my brain even had the opportunity to simply accept the fact that three Rite-Aid shoppers owned red vehicles and just happened to park in a neat line, Bejeweled took over my mind: I paused, briefly, and wondered why all three cars hadn’t disappeared when the Prism pulled in next to both SUV’s.
Perhaps this goes without saying: I have been playing far too much Bejeweled.
I’M SICK OF THE TETRIS EFFECT
There’s a name for this phenomenon: the Tetris Effect. It describes the sensation you get after playing a repetitive game like Tetris or Bejeweled — the impulse to organize your real-life world according to the game’s rules. The impulse to arrange your junk drawer to remove the white space (Tetris) or to rearrange cars to set the entire parking lot up for a high-scoring Hypercube (Bejeweled).
And it is a tiring impulse.
Modern technology spills out into our daily lives. And we, clumsy folks that we are, are usually the ones coordinating all the spillage. Remember when a desktop computer was a loud and rumbling behemoth that sat stationary on a desk in our living room? Most of us have ditched that setup for portability: laptop, iPad, iPhone, iWhatever. We don’t confine a computer to one room in the house. We watch Netflix in bed. We check our email in the kitchen. We text in the bathroom (and don’t dare tell me you’ve never done it).
We graciously accepted these portable devices. We invited them out for a trial run — a date or two, maybe — and now, like full-fledged stalkers, they won’t leave us alone. They even distract us from the two of the greatest joys in life: eating and sleeping. Haven’t we all been too busy taking a digital picture of our lunch to actually taste what we’re eating? And surely I’m not the only one who’s woken up (and responded to) a 2 a.m. text.
It’s time to hide from our electronic gadgetry — if only for a single week.
Think you can do it? Think you can peel yourself away from Farmville or Bejeweled? How about Facebook and Twitter? Pinterest? Reddit? Huffpost? Netflix?
Call it a battle against information overload. Call it a return to our natural world.
Actually, call it Screen-Free Week. Because, well, that’s what it’s called, according to the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. Each year, they challenge people across the globe to disconnect from computers, video games, Smartphones, and television.
For only a week.
Really — it’s not that long. You can do it.
I’M MISSING THE REAL-WORLD EFFECT
Join me in celebrating an all-out digital detox during the week of April 30th through May 6th, 2012. It’ll be one screen-free week that re-acquaints you with your family, your neighborhood, and your community.
And, perhaps your sense of self. And your emotional well-being. And your natural sleep cycle.
I can’t exactly say I’ve been successful with this experiment in the past, but I gave it a resolute try and I’m certainly going to do it again. You should too.
Pick up a book. Pick up a printed newspaper. Heck, pick up a date & enjoy some dinner (without the movie, of course). Real-life social experiences are a treat.
I’m going to miss Bejeweled and Facebook and the warm hum of my laptop fan, but the internet isn’t going anywhere. Either is your cable lineup or your copy of Mass Effect 3 that’s spinning along inside your PS3.
Everything will be there when we return from our vacation from the digital landscape.
Take pause, see what non-digital delights await you in our natural world, and allow yourself to let go of technology’s burden. Meditate. Ride a bicycle. Take a drive up the mountain. See what’s lurking beneath your bed.
Pull out your bead and button collection and start crafting. Grab some coffee at your local coffee shop. Walk outside and talk to your neighbors. Notice the homes and buildings in your neighborhood that you normally gloss over. Look at the details.
Eat slowly. Walk mindfully.
And allow your eyes to adjust from pixels to particles.
For more information on Screen-Free Week, visit screenfree.org.
A version of this piece originally appeared in the April issue of The Williamsport Guardian, a print publication out of Northcentral Pennsylvania.