Chances are you’ve been staring at your computer screen for hours already. If not, then you may later on today. Have you ever considered how much TV and computer screen time we expose ourselves to? Often children are exposed to many more hours of screen time than recommended; the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children recommends no more than two hours of screen time daily. Stipulations of this sort are part and parcel of the campaign to lower rates of overweight children and obesity in adolescents. (Overweight is generally used for children and adolescents ages 2-20, while obesity is used for adults 21 and older).
With the internet in the palm of our hands, we can know the weather in Brazil, make reservations for dinner, or pay a bill. How many of you read blogs on a regular basis? If you have already arrived at AltMuslimah.com, chances are you are reading websites, and possibly commenting on articles and videos. We read, watch, and Facebook-stalk for hours, yet we want more. What is this level of consumption doing to us? How does this impact our emotional and spiritual well-being? How has becoming addicted to the internet affected us as individuals and then as a collective society? What do we do to free our minds and depart from the factors which contribute to overstimulation and inactivity?
I often wonder what these daily distractions do to us, as a spiritual community. One of the core values of HEART Women and Girls is understanding: building and ultimately living the heart, mind, body, and soul connection. If our mind is constantly attuned to the plethora of distractions and addictions of this generation, we can never be free. There has to be a time and place for plugging in, and unplugging. Is it unreasonable to think that living vicariously through other people’s profiles, blogs, pictures and personal information, has the potential to ruin us as an ummah? If you are finding yourself tethered to the internet and are feeling over-stimulated, try to examine within yourself what you are searching for. Are you looking for a vehicle to reconnect with old friends? No problem, reconnect then after a set limit of time, log off. Do you need to keep in touch with your family and friends spread worldwide? Enjoy catching up but again, keep yourself to a limit. I have several friends who have deactivated their Facebook accounts because they spent too much time on it, only to reactivate weeks or months later. If you find yourself struggling to maintain boundaries, have a conversation with yourself and triage the problem.
Do you need a means to advertise your business? Keep in mind that social media is not tantamount to social marketing, and exploiting individual’s time and privacy is not the means to that goal. There is nothing inherently wrong or dishonest with a business or organization posting updates on its goings on, but one should not exploit another individual and his/her privacy to justify the end goal. What amount of your time is business critical? Furthermore, what amount of your precious time can be allocated for personal use or pleasure? I know I am not alone when I say I enjoy some quiet time just web-surfing at the end of a hectic day. It’s indulgent, but as with all indulgences, I know there has to be a limit. Additionally, I try to make sure it’s not the last thing I do just before I sleep. The brain needs some time to wind down.
The biggest irony of screen time is the real issue here. If we would not want our kids sitting in front of the screen for hours on end, why are we doing it ourselves? Just as we set limits for our children, we must set limits for ourselves for social media websites. For example, do you have any rules or specific channels used for checking email, news or updating social media sites? Personally, I do not subscribe to the blackberry service on my phone – I absolutely refuse unless I am traveling and will be without internet access for several days. I have freed myself of the constant expectation of emails or messages. That is my personal preference, but perhaps your situation warrants something else. As such, it’s not a bad idea to set times to ”plug in” at any combination of set times, say 9am, 12pm, 3pm, 5 or 6. Consider what makes sense for you and how it fits with your daily routine. And set for yourself a limit in the evening; when is the last time you will check email at night before going to bed?
A peaceful state of being, one of contentment and satiety is decidedly hard to attain. We are brainwashed to think we must visit yoga retreats or attend to regular massages to de-stress from the life we created for ourselves. Yet Islam offers us time and space to meditate 5 times daily! As I sign off today, consider your circumstances. What happens if you don’t answer that call, or you don’t reply to an email instantly? What can become of our productivity and mental state if we allow ourselves the dignity and sanctity of space? As the saying goes, there is a proper time for everything, so why not apply that to our electronic, seemingly invisible life?
Ayesha Akhtar is Director of Policy & Research at HEART Women and Girls Project. HEART empowers women through: Health Education (increasing access to accurate information and resources about one’s body and health issues), Advocacy (advocating for culturally-sensitive health care services & education for faith based communities), Research (conducting research to generate data and information about the status of women and girls from faith based communities), and Training (training women and girls to become leaders of wellness in their communities).