Screen Time

October 5, 2018

Australians spend around 9.4 hours on a screen each day compared to 7.3 hours asleep. From February 2017 to February 2018, the proportion of that time being spent on a smartphone compared to a traditional screen was 9%. A change of behaviour across a national sample of 9% in just one year represents a significant social trend…significant for a lot of reasons.

What are we doing on those small screens? Getting marketing messages according to Gruen. In the past 50 years, our exposure to content has increased by 10x. And to what impact? The attention span of the western world has reduced from 12 to 8 seconds in half a generation. Neurologically, that’s pretty bad.

What is also bad, neurologically is what the small screens are doing to our sleep. Darkness produces melatonin, a hormone that induces sleep. Absorption of blue light prevents this powerful hormone. Apparently, more than a third of us are sleeping for less than 7 hours a night – which is the minimum required to maintain physical and mental health as well as emotional wellbeing.

MIT’s Sloan School of Management conducted an experiment to measure what other impacts smartphone use was having, not only on our physical health but on mental and emotional wellbeing, too. They simply took phones away from students.  

The impacts ranged from a hyperawareness of other people using their phones and mild anxiety as to what to do with all their extra time to more serious physiological symptoms like increased heart rate and blood pressure.

Emotionally, the impacts were far more disturbing. Participants reported a sense of loss – a loss of their extended selves – a life they live powered by a smartphone.

In studying the teen use of smartphones, those who spent more time doing non-screen related social activities were at significantly lower risk of both depression and suicide.

So what do you call it when you do something that you know is bad for you because if you stop, you experience a painful withdrawal period? And you know that if you do stop, you will live a healthier, more fulfilled and happier life – but you can’t stop. Oh yeah, we call it an addiction.

Addiction is not a sustainable relationship. To reference the immortal Jack Kerouac, there comes a point with addiction, when you stop drinking out of the bottle and the bottle starts drinking out of you. We are there with smartphones. We. Are. So. there.

The good news is that some of the companies who make these little time-leeches get that there needs to be a healthier way for people and phones to exist in the digital ecosystem (and the real world). The first step to breaking any addiction is to understand that you have a problem.

If you are like the 8.6 million Australians who have iPhones, you would have received prompts this week to update to the new iOS12 operating system (the software program on your iPhone). iOS12 comes with a feature that allows you to monitor how much time you are spending on your phone, and what you are using it for.

For example, I updated to iOS12 about four hours ago, and the Screen Time feature is telling me that I have spent a total of 43 minutes on my phone…including 16 minutes on productivity, 9 minutes on social media and 4 minutes on ‘other’.

I’ve spent 9 minutes on the Calculator app (I need all the help with timezones), 6 minutes on Facebook, 4 minutes on, and 4 minutes reviewing my email.

For me most of that is work, and I’m working on the go so it makes sense. I’m a bit scared that as the 24 hour mark rolls around, the App will have recorded the hour or so of mindless scrolling I do through social instead of talking to people, the 20 minutes of trance-like time I spend watching food videos instead of cooking and the dog videos I consume rather than taking my dogs for an extra walk. OMG real life is just happening while I’m on my phone.

The new features allow you to lock yourself out of apps and create a scheduled time for a digital sunset on your day. These features will help us go from controlled to in-control and if you care about your neural pathways as I do, they couldn’t have come soon enough.

One Response to “Screen Time”

  • Enzo says:

    Spot on!!!! I CALL IT THE ZOMBIFICATION….you have to wonder what the next step is ….rechargeable implants perhaps ??

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