Friday, October 09, 2015
Esther J. Cepeda: Unplugging my way to recovery
CHICAGO -- For 12 weeks, I've been on a miracle diet that has improved my mood, cleared my mind, given me more energy, made my eyesight better, cured my insomnia and, most importantly, pretty much eliminated the daily headaches that had been dogging me.
It's not because I didn't know about eyestrain, or the cognitive benefits of reading on paper versus reading electronically -- according to a variety of research, reading electronically prevents us from navigating long texts in an intuitive and satisfying way.
It's because I just got so used to being on my computer, laptop, iPad or iPhone all day long, taking in content from all corners of the Web whenever the whim arose, that the amount of time my eyeballs were frying on a screen just crept up on me.
In May, on the WNYC podcast "Note to Self," I heard the story of Cynan Clucas, a digital-media professional and father of four in England who found himself at the doctor, worrying about early onset dementia.
Clucas was shocked to learn he had adult-onset attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, a diagnosis that, even among children, is rare in the United Kingdom (1.5 percent of kids there are diagnosed annually) as compared with in the United States (6 percent). He was just using his electronics way too much.
This gave me pause. But I wasn't feeling anxious or distracted, overwhelmed or unable to concentrate. I didn't have any problem consuming long-form content, like books or lengthy magazine pieces, so I didn't take it to heart.
And then I was faced with a weeklong work trip away from home.
How, I fretted, would I keep up with all my reading when I was going to be busy nearly every minute of every day in meetings and travel?
Ultimately, I decided to set my email to out-of-office mode, planned to limit my daily news to just one printed newspaper per day -- compared with scouring three to four publications online -- and vowed to try not to "catch up" on my online reading and socializing once I returned.
It was like the clouds parted. I noticed the changes in my health nearly immediately. Despite a hard-charging week of 15-hour days, keeping my gadgets out of my hands and face coincided with my being able to sleep better at night and not develop headaches at the slightest provocation. I just felt better.
When I got home, I decided to see if the well-being would last by consuming only print newspapers and magazines, restricting my computer time to tasks that couldn't be done offline, and limiting my time on email and websites to the bare minimum necessary for accomplishing the important stuff that needs to be done.
It's been three months and I haven't felt this good in years.
Esther J. Cepeda is a Washington Post columnist.