In honor of the beginning of playoff baseball, here’s a true story:
A group of dads took their seven year-old sons to a professional baseball game. They arrived at their seats in the right field bleachers during batting practice. The home team’s stars dotted the field, shagging fly balls and stretching out. A few even chatted with fans. Just feet away, the starting pitcher warmed up in the bullpen. The dads absorbed the setting in reverent awe, then turned excitedly to their sons to point out their favorite players. But their sons ignored them. Instead, the boys stood with their backs to the field, transfixed by the enormous video screen towering over the grandstand as it flashed images of the very same players they could watch, in the flesh, if only they turned around. Nothing the dads did seemed to distract their sons from the screen for more than a few seconds.
We’ve written before about the power of screen-based visual stimuli, but we think it’s a theme worth revisiting. Many who struggle with problematic porn use have a history of prioritizing screens over lived experience from a young age. Perhaps this resulted from a predisposition for compulsive behavior, evolved as a coping mechanism for trauma, or took root in something else entirely. Whatever the origin of our attraction to screens, we, too, found ourselves compelled to stare at the Jumbotron at the ballgame. We also felt panic and anger when our parents pulled us away from our video games. We relied on aimlessly surfing cable channels and web sites as a way to tune out stress. We felt an inexplicable craving to fight the losing battle of keeping up with email and social media. It’s small wonder that internet pornography, a particularly powerful visual stimulus, caught, held, and eventually demanded our obsessional attention.
The struggle against our seemingly-autonomic response to screens can feel overwhelming at times. The darn things are everywhere, and to some degree we cannot (and should not) avoid them. And yet, there’s something powerful about seeing others turn away from the lived world in favor of the virtual one that can prompt us to re-confront our predilections. Breaking out of our conditioning for screens may even require seizing on those moments and responding them with action. We might strike up a conversation about what we’ve observed. We might write a journal entry or a blog post (natch). Or, though it might pain us to do it, we might turn off the playoff game, take our child outside, and have a catch. In those moments, we weaken the hold screens once had on our lives, and lessen the chance they'll hold sway over those we love. Surely, that’s cause for hope.
If you struggle with screens or are worried about someone who does, the resources collected here may help.