How to be more thoughtful about your screen time

The week before Christmas, I encountered airport crowds waiting to board their flights, but spilling out of the gate area and hampering the rest of us trying to get where we were going. I got stuck behind a guy dragging his bag but laser-focused on his phone. His bag kept hitting people in the ankles, and he was causing a bottleneck in the flow of traffic. Frustrated with his obvious oblivion, I thought to myself, "Dude, just look up from your phone!"

Curious, I decided to do a very unscientific experiment and asked various groups of people, "How many of you feel like you spend too much time on your screens?" When most raised their hands, I concluded that many people know they spend too much time with their electronics. Certainly, we all need to be on our gadgets for some of that time, but for all of it?

What's something you've been wanting to do for a while, but just can't seem to find the time? Maybe you mean to increase the time you spend with your kids or would like to get caught up on projects around the house. Perhaps you've been wanting to visit a sick friend or spend a little more time with God in prayer.

Whatever it is, a bit less screen time might help you fulfill these desires.

As you consider the new year, perhaps God is inspiring you to spend less time looking at a screen and more time looking at the people and places around you? Here are some things to remember as you try cutting back on your digital consumption.

First, practice discipline. I tend to get sucked down the rabbit hole when I hit YouTube, even for valid reasons. As I click from one video to the next, an embarrassing amount of time is wasted before I realize it. Now, when I go on YouTube, I set a 30-minute time limit. Then, I say a quick prayer to Blessed Carlo Acutis for help. He was a gamer but only allowed himself an hour a week at it, because he knew how easily one gets lost while playing.

Second, take responsibility for yourself and know your online habits. Acknowledge the legitimate needs you have for being online but make sure to spend appropriate time with loved ones face-to-face. Show real interest in people by listening attentively to them without judgment, and show real interest in deepening your relationship with God.

Next, be discerning. Ask questions when you're engaging with online media. We don't want to be so absorbed by technology that we lose sight of who we are or find ourselves in the throes of an addiction. Is what you're doing online bringing peace and serenity, or is it causing anxiety? Perhaps you need to bring what you're seeing in the digital realm into prayer? Is your digital life an authentic reflection of your life as a disciple of Christ? Ask the Holy Spirit for the gift of discernment when it comes to choosing online activity and deciding how long you'll spend there.

Finally, cultivate times of silence. Recently an errand took me along the Pacific Coast Highway. On a whim, I pulled (safely) to the side of the road. I turned off the car, rolled down the window on the side facing the ocean, closed my eyes, and listened to the sound of the waves for a few minutes. This might not strictly qualify as silence since I could still hear the noise of cars whizzing by, but I quieted my mind and heart for three minutes, and it was good for my soul.

We all need silence in our lives. With silence comes reflection and the ability to hear the many ways God is constantly reaching out to us in everyday life. Silence not only enables us to hear God, but to hear the needs of others more clearly.

If you resolve to decrease your online screen time, I suspect you won't only be helping yourself but also those around you to live a more balanced, peaceful and holy 2024.