Too many screens? Not a problem


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 that question 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, just a few TVs and flip phones. As we added Earnheardts, we added more screens.

We’re really not 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.

That promise was the primary sales tactic for every piece of tech we get sucked into buying.

That promise, however, also led me to realize two undeniable facts.

Fact one: 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 bus filled with 8th graders heading to Kennywood Park.

Somewhere between the long weekend and my deadline, I lost track of time and didn’t finish the column. When I loaded the bus bound for Pittsburgh, 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 often rely on screens to maintain connections to people with whom I need to communicate personally and professionally.

I’m writing this column on a screen. When I’m done, I’ll open an email and send it off to my editor. When published, I’ll share the column from Vindy.com on social media. When others read it, they’ll post comments about what they liked and disliked about my column.

At every step of the process, I use a screen to make those personal and professional connections.

The trick for all of us, however, is to find balance between a life with screens and a life without them, and learning how to maintain that balance every day.

Adam Earnheardt is chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University. Follow him on Twitter at @adamearn and on his blog at www.adamearn.com.

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