I have a confession to make. I'm addicted to my phone and screens in general. I recently downloaded the Moment app, which tracks how much time you spend on your phone and how many times you open it.
The numbers don't lie. I spend, on average, almost five hours a day scrolling through my device. This does not include the time on my computer or watching TV. At work alone, I probably spend another three hours on my laptop grading papers, planning lessons and finding resources. My writing also latches me to a screen and when it comes to TV there are a lot of great shows out there.
I'm not unique. The average Millennial in the US spends over six-and-a-half hours watching screens, according to a study carried out last year by consumer research firm OnePoll. Older generations aren't far from that. Almost none of us are able to avoid this feature of modern life. Many feel this is a problem and are looking for ways out of our digital trap. US author Cal Newport's book Digital Minimalism is a response to this problem. He does a great job of breaking down why we have such a hard time staying away from our screens and what to do about it.
One key way to avoid being swallowed up by devices is what Newport calls "high quality leisure". For activities to qualify for this, they must meet some or all of the following criteria:
• Any activity involving crafting and craftsmanship
• Artistic endeavours
• Learning, critical thinking and reflection
• Listening and/or dancing to high-quality music (with no other tasks/distractions)
• Meaningful discussion
• Meditation and mindfulness
• Play and playfulness
• Recreational sport and fitness
Here in the UAE, finding engaging activities can be challenging and sometimes expensive. We may load our days up with leisure activities only to find our wallets empty. However, here is my low-cost list of high-quality leisure options in the Emirates:
Visit free beaches
They often have long walking and biking paths and some offer free music and performances. Take a chair, a towel and a book and go swimming. Also, bring a picnic and safely stow your phone in the car to stay screen-free.
Visit the parks or the desert
While it can cost a few dirhams to enter, many parks offer free walking and yoga groups. Alternatively a picnic in the desert is a very cost-effective way to spend an afternoon.
Get your friends together
The UAE offers an incredible diversity of cultures. Gather a group together to share your experiences, with a potluck dinner where each person brings a dish from their culture. You learn, share and eat. One fun thing is to tear a piece of paper into squares and each write five personal questions that everybody can answer. If anyone mentions work or picks up their phone, they have to pick up a piece of paper, answer the question and then ask it to everyone in turn.
Window shop at the malls
It can be good practice to build your spending discipline by walking past shop displays without buying anything. Plus you are exercising for free.
Learn a new skill
Not all hobbies require lots of money. Whether it's photography, acting or art, there are lots of options with low charges to keep you coming back.
Board games are having a resurgence as people realise it's far more fun to beat people in person than over an app. There's also a new board game cafe in Dubai called Unwind Board Game Cafe where the staff teach you how to play them, along with great drinks and food, all for a very reasonable price.
Meet new people
Search meetup.com for any activity you enjoy to find others interested in the same pursuits. Alternatively, contact the group End Small Talk, which hosts events around the UAE, where you get together and have deep discussions on a variety of topics.
Through trying new low-cost pursuits, we avoid walling ourselves off by spending the whole day in front of a screen. Remember what it's like to be human again.