As I set pencil to paper (really!) to lament the immense invasion of TV and computer screens into our lives, I see how my handwriting has deteriorated. And it’s all because, like most people, I spend so much time typing into computers and staring at screens.
Remember, if you are old enough, when television first came into American households, how our mothers complained, “You’re going to ruin your eyesight if you keep staring at that thing!” We ignored our mothers, of course, and continued to gape in utter fascination at “Captain Video” and “Howdy Doody” and “The Lone Ranger.” Our eyes were glued, there was no unsticking them, and thus began the Age of Screens, an era that has now progressed far beyond what those early video creators might have imagined.
Hardly a day, (hah, an hour!) goes by that I am not surrounded by screens—my desktop computer, my laptop, my tablet, my phone, the function screen on my printer, and the television, of course. And beyond home is as bad: the super market screens everywhere (why does my little IGA have opposite the checkout a huge screen advertising septic service companies?), the TV display of financial news at the bank, the screens attached to the equipment at the gym, search screens and self check-out screens at the library; wide screens at bars and restaurants and servers’ ordering screens. (It is a rare and delightful thing to find a restaurant having no screens whatsoever). One cannot avoid screens in taxicabs or airplanes; in fact, a passenger is aggressively confronted with them, and while you might have the ability to shut them off, there are always myriad screens everywhere else. Outdoor signage is increasingly relying on screens. Screens large and small are impossible to avoid.
A common sight in public is a group of people sitting or standing or crossing the street (!), their eyes transfixed on screens—laptops, tablets, watches, and phones. A person sitting in an airport or coffee shop without his or her eyes glued to a screen is perhaps an oddity.
Recently I had the rare pleasure of enjoying a lovely spa where electronic devices were politely forbidden, and yet one woman, wrapped in a lovely white robe, insisted on blithely scrolling away on her phone, completely oblivious to the serene environment surrounding her. And on a long hike the other day, absorbing nature in all its glory, George and I encountered a young man sitting in the middle of the rocky trail, his phone screen before him. What on earth? Taking a selfie? Sending a quick text? Good grief. And it is not uncommon to see a young family in a restaurant, each member with his or her own device at hand, ignoring each other as they stare at their screens. Is there some sort of addiction at work here? Or do we use screens as a way to avoid human contact?
Of course, I am as guilty as the next person; my tablet is on first thing in the morning and last thing at night. I can’t seem to help myself.
Delights of the Electronic Age
But is my plaint justified? Don’t computer and TV screens provide us vast amounts of information and infinitely beautiful images? Don’t they represent convenience and pleasure? Of course they do. And I wouldn’t want to be without them. But sixteen hours a day? Maybe not.
Fortunately the ruination of eyesight our mothers predicted all those years ago has not come to pass. But a mental mindset for information overload has been established—actually, has captivated us—and is unlikely to disappear.
My archaic practice of writing in longhand, creating my first drafts by hand, releases me, at least for a couple hours a day, from screens. Of course my handwritten draft will get typed into the computer and edited on the screen, but for one small segment of the day, I can rely on only a lined sheet of paper and my pencil (which has now become quite stubby). If all the screens that surround us were to suddenly shut down, as they do during a power outage, I would still have my pencil and paper and a brain, which, so far, has not been overwhelmed by screens.
Postscript: For an in-depth discussion on this topic, read this excellent article by Andrew Sullivan in New York Magazine. http://nymag.com/selectall/2016/09/andrew-sullivan-technology-almost-killed-me.html