Too many screens

Most days, when I am not traveling, I write my journal while sitting at a library table in our basement. On the table is a monitor and a stand that holds my notebook computer, so I have two displays that provide light in the room. There is also a desk lamp that provides light on an external keyboard that I use while typing. On the computer I have an open document where I write the words. On the other monitor I display various items. Sometimes I display a search engine with results of something that I’ve checked out and will use in the blog. Sometimes there are news headlines displayed on the second monitor. Sometimes I just leave it with a single photograph that I use for a background when there are no applications running. Even though the two displays are side by side, I only look at one at a time. I’ve learned to focus on my writing and most of the time that is where my attention is directed. If I need to look up something, I stop writing for a minute to do that. If there is something I want to copy, I look at the copy page and later check to make sure that my typing was accurate. At any rate, I seem to be able to deal with two screens without a problem.

At the office, I have only one screen and I don’t seem to miss the other one. I used to have a second monitor there as well, but that stopped working and I just didn’t seem to need it. At work I usually am dealing with email, updating the church web page, or preparing worship bulletins when I’m using the computer. If I need more than one document open at the same time, I overlap the windows so that I can quickly tab between them.

But three are a lot of places where there are a lot more than just two screens. On Friday night we went down to the studios of South Dakota Public Broadcasting to hear Jami Lynn play a banjo from the National Music Museum that Earl Scruggs had given to Johnny Cash. It was a delightful evening of song, but the studio was really full. There were people packed in so tightly that we didn’t have a very clear view of Jami. We could hear clearly, but found it easier to watch a television screen mounted across the room from where we were seated. I could get enough of a glimpse of Jami to know that the color was off slightly in the monitor. Everything pictured there was a bit more blue than what my eye perceived when looking at the artist.

We were, after all, in a television studio. The monitor that I was watching was large and clear, but it was one of five different monitors on the same wall. The other four were displaying four different programs. For a few moments, I was distracted and watched as Cookie Monster was taking cooking lessons to the sound of Jami Lynn playing clawhammer banjo on a rare and historic banjo. It was a bit surreal. I found that the multiple pictures, all with their own sense of motion and timing, were distracting and a bit hard to watch. I had to concentrate and focus on one at a time or the whole thing was simply disorienting.

Then yesterday I spent some time in the waiting area of the emergency room at the hospital which is brand new. The new emergency department opened just last Wednesday. There in the waiting room was a bank of four monitors, each with a different program playing. After a few minutes, I got up and moved so that I was no longer facing the monitors. I definitely had the sensation that all of those visual images coming at once did not promote health or healing. I can see how a single monitor might be good for patient education or to orient confused people to emergency room procedures. There might be times when some soothing pictures or other images might help anxious family members while they waited as their loved one received treatment in the emergency department. But I can’t understand the need for a cluster of four screens. Fortunately, there was no sound from any of the screens, which seemed to be showing local television programs, which in the wee hours of early morning are mostly showing advertisements for things to purchase. I kept wondering how often such programs advertise products that claim to offer effective treatment but are medically questionable. Does the hospital really want to be promoting such things?

I suspect that children who have grown up with so many screens in their homes and in virtually every place they go might do better in making the quick mental switch from program to program and screen to screen. It is a skill that I don’t possess. I don’t like having too many screens with too much information to absorb. And when I’m in a waiting room, I really prefer to just wait. I can allow my mind to focus on what is most important to me, which most of the time is a patient who is receiving treatment or a family who is experiencing loss and grief. I don’t want to be distracted by television.

Furthermore, these days, we all carry screens with us. I don’t do it very often, but I know how to watch videos on my smart phone. I can use it to get the news headlines from multiple sources. As I looked around the waiting room, most of the other people there were looking at their phones, not at the screens on the wall. It may be that even though the emergency room is brand new and supposedly state of the art, having all those television monitors is something that is a bit behind the times. If they want to educate patients or get information to them, perhaps they should have free wi-fi and Internet based resources for individuals to watch on their own phones.

Meanwhile, I chose a seat where I wasn’t facing the screens. If that fails, I guess I could always close my eyes.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!