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Seeking Higher Ground: Unplugging from the 24/7 news cycle

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When I give people my cell phone number, it’s always with the caveat that they shouldn’t expect to reach me 24/7. “I check this voicemail box about once a month,” my message warns. “If you need to reach me, call my landline.”
Call me a Luddite, call me an introvert, but I crave untethered time. I think it’s stupid to sleep with a smartphone under the pillow. I need time to unplug from the electronic world village.
In 2016, the A.C. Neilsen company found in 2016 that adults devoted 10 hours and 39 minutes a day to media, with TV taking the biggest chunk (4.5 hours), the internet coming in second. The average American spends nearly half the day staring at a screen. Worse, 83 percent of those answering a 2017 Bureau of Labor statistics poll said they that spent no time during a usual day relaxing or thinking.
Researchers have linked heavy media use to childhood obesity and found that teens who glue themselves to social media are more apt to say they’re depressed than those who limit screen time.
Multiple psychologists have also warned that violence in the media can cause symptoms akin to PTSD.
Last year, a study by the American Psychological Association found that two-thirds of Americans are anxious over the country’s future with constant news playing a major role. Dr. Steven Stosny has coined a term to describe the problem: “Headline Stress Disorder.”
HSD? Yeah, I get that.
Time was there was something called “the news cycle.” What that meant was that newspapers, radio and TV reported the day’s news each evening. A few morning papers gave us last night’s update. In between, hours passed. Neither Vietnam nor Watergate was a 24/7 crisis.
Now, there’s no respite; no rest. Even when I leave my phone at home, someone in the coffee shop, on the bus or in the grocery is grasping theirs, gasping at the latest horror from the White House or congress, the most recent #MeToo revelation, school shooting or ISIS attack…
David Sipress’ New Yorker cartoon — the one that proclaims, “My desire to be well-informed is currently at odds with my desire to remain sane” — has become a meme for good reason.
It’s hard to imagine now, but when I first moved to Aspen in 1970, I was out of touch for weeks at a time. I left Denver via Greyhound Bus due to a lack of other options: Gas cost only 36 cents a gallon, but I couldn’t afford a car. I had about $20 cash in my pocket, but no credit cards. (Like most females, I was denied credit until after the Equal Credit Opportunity Act was passed in 1974.)
I landed three jobs in Snowmass: cleaning condos, cooking in a deli and ski-packing with the slope-grooming crew. I lived with five other girls in a trailer park. (Grown females were still called “girls” back then.) We had intermittent radio, no TV and no mail other than general delivery. Email? Nope, not for 20 more years. We didn’t have a landline, and none of us had cell phones either. Those too lay decades in the future.
We spent our evenings playing gin rummy, balancing on a bongo board in our living room, playing guitars, singing and even reading poetry.
The only way I could call home was via payphone. Snowmass didn’t have one, so I called on alternate Fridays, when I hitchhiked to Aspen to deposit my paper paycheck in the bank there. (There was no RFTA then, and no bank in Snowmass. Although the first ATM opened in Japan in 1969, they didn’t become common in the U.S. until the 1980’s.)
When I headed for Aspen in 1970, it was in part because I feared violence, felt the U.S. being torn asunder: the assassinations of JFK, RFK and Martin Luther King. Fires and bombings. Urban riots. Hate speech.
The charged divide we now call “red” and “blue” threatened to electrocute us. I was terrified a truck driver would rape me, just for spite, when I was hitchhiking. (It never happened. In hindsight, I can say ‘me too’ — and that I should have worried more about young men on my side.)
Thanks to the electronics revolution, I’d say that living here is much easier and safer now. But I’d also quote the protest poet William Wordsworth penned at the dawn of the industrial revolution and say that “the world is too much with us, late and soon” — no thanks to the electronics revolution.
Wordsworth was right: “Getting and spending we lay waste our powers.” So pardon me while I power down, go stand on a pleasant lea and listen for old Triton blowing his wreathed horn.

Nicolette Toussaint is a current Sopris Sun board member. The views expressed here are solely those of the author.

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