An Experiment

I read last week (online, most likely) that the average person spends more than 10 hours a day – that’s 10 hours a day – staring at some sort of screen (phone, computer, tablet, TV). 

Let that sink in for a moment. Then read this and see if it doesn’t ring true:

“Claire wakes jonesing for data; she fumbles on the crowded bedside table for her Blackberry, takes a digital hit. Fourteen e-mails, six tweets, five friend requests, three texts, and her calendar – life in a palm.” 

Does this sound familiar? It’s how Jess Walter introduces us to one of the main characters in his novel Beautiful Ruins, but the description had me nodding my head yes, so true, so true!

The fact is, I’m going to bed more frequently with a digital hangover. Between Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and breaking news alerts beeping on my phone, not to mention blogs and websites for everything from career advice to home decorating, I’m beginning to suffer from TMI – too much information on too many things. And the idea that we’re doing this more than half of the time we’re awake each day? 

It’s time to find a way to shut down without shutting it off.

Here’s what I propose: For the month of June, I’m going back to basics. My news will come three times a day: newspapers in the morning, a hit from Feedly at lunch, and the PBS NewsHour while I make dinner. I’m turning off the scrolling Twitter updates and breaking news alerts that flash across my screen while I’m writing; instead, I’ll write more by hand, on real paper with a real pen. I vow to read through the pile of magazines that languishes behind my desk instead of refreshing Twitter, and I’ll read a chapter in bed each night instead of checking email one last time. 

Is this the month I strike a balance? I’ll let you know. Deep down, I don’t think I’ll suffer that much, and hopefully I’ll become more productive, or at least more focused.

Did you all notice that the trees have leaves on them now? When did that happen?

Filed under: Writing

About the Author

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Ellen Fowler Hummel is a writer specializing in creative nonfiction and the occasional short story. She is co-founder and managing editor of, an online magazine featuring original nonfiction writing and photography.