Saturday, February 24, 2018

Pool: Resolutions done and undone

By Frank Pool
Feb. 6, 2018 at 4 a.m.

It's February already. How are those New Year's resolutions working out?

I'm mentioning this because there's some dreary statistic telling us that the half-life of one of those resolutions is about the time a half-gallon of ice cream lasts in the freezer.

But I'm also writing to tell you about my own successes and failures.

Last year I reported on my attempt to teach myself Latin by reading a couple of works in bilingual editions. Well, that worked for a while, as every day I would spend a little time with an old book or a high school textbook.

I did well for a while. I picked up some grammar, but mostly I learned many Latin words that made their way into English. I kept being amazed at the ones I'd never suspected.

Then travels intervened, and the chain of consecutive days broke, and I wasn't able to re-establish it. I still look into those books from time to time, but I haven't kept my resolution. Probably I should find a class at the community college.

The need for other people to support new habits is important. A buddy of mine who's in pretty good shape (for an old guy) has been in Cross-Fit, where they expect you to show up for classes. I think they even call you if you don't. Harnessing the right kind of peer pressure can be a great benefit.

But there is one resolution I made all the way back in August that I've been successful in keeping. It's the one I call my "digital sabbath." It's worked out so well that I recently described myself as an evangelist for the sabbath.

My digital sabbath has only one rule. I don't go online on Sundays. The rest of the week I find myself reading quite a lot online, not only news, but commentary and essays from a variety of sources. Overall I think my reading habits contribute to being informed and intellectually stimulated, but it comes at a cost.

I've become convinced that screen addiction is real, and that it is a major factor contributing to unhappiness today. This is not just a personal opinion. In a recent study, the decline in teenagers' measurements of happiness is directly linked to their use of smart phones. It's not the only factor, to be sure, but it's an important one.

The survey tracked teenagers' activity and correlated them with self-reported scores indicating happiness. The results are sobering: "every activity that didn't involve a screen was linked to more happiness, and every activity that involved a screen was linked to less happiness."

Teenagers nowadays don't drive, date, or work as much they did just a couple of decades ago.

Adults, too are less likely than those of previous years to report themselves happy. While it's not the only reason, it seems that virtual communication doesn't maintain authentic human relationships.

I'm much happier on Sundays. I don't fret about negative things as much. I'm using the time with my wife, talking to friends, taking walks in the greenbelt behind my house, reading actual books, and sometimes writing these columns.

The satisfaction I get from my digital sabbaths keeps the habit going. I've taken to leaving my phone on my desk rather than being tempted to hit the internet.

We've all heard of vicious circles, but there's such a thing as a virtuous circle, where positive actions feed on themselves. So it is with unplugging once a week, and giving online obsession a rest.

I wanted to share the good news.

— Frank Thomas Pool is a writer and a retired English teacher in Austin. He grew up on Maple Street in Longview and graduated from Longview High School.



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