And Nothing is very strong: strong enough to steal away a man’s best years not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why…
from The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
I’d not heard of The Screwtape Letters until Tim Clare mentioned them in an episode of his Couch to 80k Boot Camp (which you should listen to in its entirety, incidentally). The book is a series of letters, written by a senior demon to a subordinate nephew, outlining techniques by which the junior demon might ensnare the eternal soul of his ‘patient’.
In the letter above, Screwtape advises steering the patient away from any “healthy outgoing activities”, in favour of “curiosities so feeble that the man is only half aware of them”. And, lo, today we have social media, YouTube, and scores of other content sharing platforms, all absolutely sloshing over with the thinnest gruel conceivable. It is as though Lewis had been gazing into one of his mate Tolkien’s palantír when he wrote this chapter.
One of the rules I have in my house is no ‘screen time’ during the week. If Thing 2 has the option of staring at a screen, he’ll take it over everything other than playing with a friend.
Now, Thing 2 is a lively character. He’s curious, extrovert, and loud. So very loud. But he’s rarely any of these things when he’s parked in front of a screen. It’s like the life has leeched out of him. Most of the stuff he chooses to watch doesn’t raise a flicker from him. He just sits there, dead-eyed, gazing into a sort of reverse palantír, an empty bauble that offers no insight, no genuine pleasure, nothing.
By contrast, when he listens to music, he dances around the place like nobody’s business. When he plays, he is funny and imaginative and energetic. And he’s always laughing. And when you’re laughing, you’re living.
Now, don’t get me wrong, we all need to rest. That empty bauble is sometimes exactly what we want after a hard day of laugh-living. Even more so after a day of getting kicked in the cobbles. But it can so easily become our default source of pleasure. And while we lap up these skimmed milk entertainments, Screwtape squats below us, congratulating himself on a job well done.
But, Whitman, I hear you cry! Don’t you spend hours — ludicrously quantifiable hours — of your life on computer games? And Facebook? And Twitter? And YouTube?
You’re quite right. So you’ll be delighted to hear that I’m holding myself to the same rule now (as best I can). No screen time (that isn’t work or actual friendship related) during the week. And now that I’ve only got the weekend to fritter away on feeble curiosities, I’m already becoming more selective in how I waste my time.
Until next time… toodle-oo!