I have a love-hate relationship with screens. That's the thing you're looking at (or through?) to read this.
Screens are plentiful in the Earnheardt house.
Aside from a few TVs, we have a smattering of mobile devices either plugged into walls, dangling precariously from the edge of a table, or in the grip of some grubby, ketchup-caked fingers.
I could spend hours regaling you with tales of cracked screens and our semi-ingenious methods for tracking lost devices, but the bigger questions I’ve had lately have to do with how we got to this point:
Why do we have so many screens? Do we really need them?
Put those questions in successive order to an Earnheardt kid and you’ll get, “Because” and “Yes,” respectively.
Somewhere in the last decade, we started to accumulate this tech in our home. It started slow with just a few small TVs and flip phones. As we added Earnheardts, we added more screens. A 70-inch plasma here, an iPad there, old smartphones in a drawer.
It's equal parts maddening and comforting.
We’re really not all that different from other families. Our kids like games and YouTube. My wife and I like news and social media. It’s just that, well, foolishly I thought we’d be more efficient by now – that we’d have fewer screens and more time to enjoy other things in life.
After all, that continues to be the unfulfilled promise of technology:
Use this device, or software, and your life will be simpler.
To this day, that promise serves as a primary sales tactic for every piece of tech we get sucked into buying. Ironically, our life is more complicated with it, but we can't life without it.
That promise, however, also led me to realize two undeniable facts.
Fact one: Yes, I’m no more productive than I used to be before screens, but I fear I’d be even less productive without them. Right or wrong, I sometimes feel a little secure with a screen nearby.
You’d never know this by reading it, but last week’s column was written on my smartphone while I was on a school bus filled with 7th graders, chaperoning my daughter band on a field trip to Kennywood Park, an amusement park in Pittsburgh, PA.
Somewhere between the long weekend, my fear of spending the day with tweens, and my deadline, I lost track of time and didn’t finish the column. When I loaded the bus, a wave of panic flushed my body – until I realized, “Oh, I have my phone. I can write it on here.”
Problem solved, thanks to my trusty screen.
Fact two: I rely heavily on my screens to maintain connections to people with whom I need (or want) to communicate professionally and personally.
This post is a perfect example. I’m writing this on a screen. When I’m done, I’ll open an email and send it off to my editor. When published on Vindy.com, I'll share it on social media and here, on my blog. When others read it, they’ll post comments about what they liked and disliked about my column (that's your cue). :)
At every step of the process, I use a screen to make those personal and professional connections.
The trick for all of us drowning in screens is to find a working balance between life with and without them, because accumulating screens does very little to help us grow what really matters: relationships with friends, colleagues and family.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is professor and chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA. He researches and writes about communication and relationships, parenting and sports. He writes a weekly column for The Vindicator newspaper on social media and society.