Imagine Living Only in the Real World and Rejecting All Screens

by James Wallace Harris, 3/18/21

I grew up in the 1950s with the television screen. In the 1980s I became addicted to the computer screen. In the 2010s I started looking at the smartphone screen all the time. After having someone impersonate me with a fake Instagram account on Facebook last night I got disgusted with the internet I wondered if I shouldn’t abandon the online world. Then I thought, what would it be like to live just in the real world, without any screens, not even the TV screen? Much of what I find disturbing about the world comes through screens.

That’s a scary thought, giving up screens. I spend hours every day staring at them. My favorite past time right now is discussing science fiction short stories with folks on Facebook. If I didn’t use screens I could still read books but I couldn’t connect with the other people who love to read the same kind of things I do. Of course, what if we considered book pages to be like screens and abandoned them too?

Before screens there were books, newspapers, and magazines. I can imagine giving up screens, even giving up watching television, but I can’t imagine giving up the printed page. Isn’t that weird?

I’m trying to imagine life without screens or pages. It kind of blows my mind. My world would get very small. I’d probably keep up the house and yard way better than I do now. I’d probably get into gardening, cooking, and making things. I’d want to spend more time with people face-to-face. I assume life would slow way down. I guess I’d crave hearing about the world beyond my little place in it by talking to people and listening to their stories about events beyond my sight.

Without pages from books, magazines, and newspapers I’d be a lot more ignorant. Pages and screens inform us, connect us to the wider world. I can see now thinking about this, that screens really are an extension of pages. Screens add movement to the static type, illustrations and photos in printed matter.

When I watch YouTube videos created by amateurs I realize they are sending a highly constructed recorded speech with visuals which is more evolved than the printed essay, and an essay is more evolved than a lecture, and a lecture is more evolved than conversation.

The real world is nature. Plants and animals, earth and sky. Pages and screens are our way of communicating about nature. But hasn’t the abstraction of our communication moved us away from nature?

As much as I find nature beautiful and fascinating, I’m far more wrapped up in pages and screens, which if you think about it, is our way of reacting to nature. So what if we gave up abstraction and just dwelled in the natural world? (It might feel like living in a Ursula K. Le Guin novel. Even her futuristic human societies dwelling on far away worlds seem like medieval times on Earth.)

To be honest, it’s too late for me. I’m far too addicted to abstraction. I much prefer the fantasy of fiction on the page or screen to living actively in the real world. I much prefer the abstraction of nonfiction, news programs, and documentaries to studying reality first hand.

Should I feel guilty about that?


3 thoughts on “Imagine Living Only in the Real World and Rejecting All Screens”

  1. Hi James,….think of it this way,…the ‘real world’ is just another virtual reality, so giving up the screens only dispenses with a portion of the total experience that is our imagination. In other words, how we perceive and interpret the information through screens is no different than how we perceive and interpret the environment including others and any other life form in the physical world.

    Our brain’s have evolved a basic framework which allows it/us to respond to stimuli in the most effective manner possible toward enhancing our potential for survival. Nothing more nothing less

    You are acting and behaving in the only manner you can. No assignment of blame or responsibility necessary

    You’re guilt free!

  2. “When I watch YouTube videos created by amateurs I realize they are sending a highly constructed recorded speech with visuals which is more evolved than the printed essay,”

    I would argue that moving essays to “cinema” is a massive devolution. The amount of information and logic able to be used in far less, emotion takes a far more important role, and the surface of things becomes more important than the meaning or context of them. You are invited to feel, but not think, and feeling is devolution. Pre-humans could feel – as can many animals – but they don’t think beyond instinct.

    I would invite you to read “amusing ourselves to death” it is more valuable today than it was when it was published. One of the most important things to look at is the way that thoughts expressed through writing and thoughts expressed through “cinema” (defined as all linear time-based combinations of visuals and audio designed to be experienced on a screen and without the audience participation) are radically different from each other.

    A more modern book that summarizes scholarship in this area, but cannot offer a good solution is “Don’t Watch This: How the Media is Destroying Your Life.” And by media, he doesn’t mean “news” although that’s part of it. He means visual media of all forms, and discusses how the dopamine hits that weren’t offered by reading were injected by television and cranking to 11 by the internet.

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