"You'll get square eyes", mum used to say, if I sat huddled up to our black and white television set as a child. She was from an era between world wars when you listened to the radio and occupied yourself with make-do-and-mend. To her, in those early days of my childhood, the advent of television was still something you watched on high days and holidays.
She was right really. Too much looking at a TV screen was not good for you, rather more because you weren't doing anything really useful or getting any fresh air, than because it would harm your eyes. But nowadays, screens are everywhere and not just on televisions. Computer laptops, tablets, smart mobile phones vie for your attention too and screen time has increased our attention. Mothers nowadays plonk their children in front of the TV or give them a tablet to play with, while they themselves scroll down through endless social media chats. Screens have taken over our lives.
Living as I do in lockdown, in complete isolation as I shield from any passing Covid germs, and with only the rare outing round the block once a week to get a bit of fresh air, I have found I too am facing a screen for a lot of the day. Try as I might, there is only so much dusting a girl can do and the recent inclement weather has not made gardening a barrel of fun, so I have had to make distractions where I can. I try to telephone someone at least twice a week - usually someone I have not seen in a year or more - and catch up, but then again there is a limit how many times I can do that without appearing needy or racking up a huge phone bill and so screens have helped me out a lot.
As soon as I open my eyes each day, I grab my mobile and check BBC News, BBC weather and emails to see how I should shape my day. That can take half an hour luxuriating in my bed as something else will inevitably catch my eye on other apps.
Mid-morning with a coffee, I have started in the last two months learning Italian on the tablet Kay bought me for my 70th birthday. I can already speak German fluently and French to A-level standard with a smattering of Russian, so another language has not been too taxing. The Duolingo course online has been amazing and I have already made some progress. I am not sure how useful "the turtle is eating the red spider" (la tartaruga mangia il ragno rosso) will come in handy for a trip to Venice, but who knows? There might be a red spider in my room and I can ask the hotel reception to provide me with a hungry turtle.
After half an hour or so of Italian animals and verb declensions, I progress to my laptop to do some admin or write emails. Then lunch beckons, so I make a snack to eat in front of the midday news on TV.
Mid-afternoon, I'm back on the laptop as there might be a zoom meeting I have joined. I have taken part in various Covid studies and there have been quite a few zoom meetings on their findings. The foodbank where I used to volunteer pre-Covid often has zoom meetings too. In addition to all that I have joined a choir online and they regularly send backing tracks and lyrics for you to practice the song before the next zoom session, all done (you've guessed it) on my laptop. Sometimes, those zoom meetings are the only human contact I have had all week, so they are a godsend. Thank goodness for technology!
By suppertime, I am winding down for the day and will cook a meal and eat alone whilst watching TV. Before I know it, four hours have passed in front of back-to-back TV and the evening is long gone. It's often just a noise in the background to drown the silence in the room.
I do feel rather embarrassed that I have spent so much of my day in front of a screen, although to be fair I was more out and about before Covid came along but obviously cannot do that again yet. Screen time has kept me connected with the outside world during the pandemic and distracted me from my isolation. It's educated me too. So I justify it to myself.
Soon it is bedtime. Time for me to turn off the light and rest those square eyes. Sorry, Mum!