You know the deal. Looking at phones, tablets, etc. Texting. “Tweeting.” Vague-booking. All that. It’s all screen time. So is Netflix, Hulu, porn, etc.
Fun fact: I once went to a string of six consecutive weddings where someone at my table talked about reducing screen time. In five of those cases, they had kids. Once they didn’t but still needed to reduce screen time. Six consecutive weddings. Different families, different socioeconomic baselines, etc. Everyone seemed concerned about screen time.
Why is this? Maybe because it’s the new form of work-life balance.
Think on this screen time stuff for a second
I think we all know mobile email is a huge productivity killer. Your boss fires off an email to you at 10pm and you’re scrambling and trying to respond with the correct assets by 11pm. If you have young kids, maybe they’re in bed — but this mobile email screen time stuff just nuked connection with your spouse and/or sex. This is reality for many people that I know, unfortunately.
Now we’ve got a new article on Harvard Business Review about device-free time being as important as work-life balance. The article has a ton of stats about how screwed we all are on screen time, including:
According to recent data from Nielsen, 87% of Singapore’s 5.4 million population reports owning a smartphone, while a smaller but still substantial 68% of Americans own smartphones. A hefty 89% of American workers have reported feeling chronic body pain as a result of the posture they’ve developed using these devices, and 82% of this same group also say that the presence of phones “deteriorated” their most recent conversations. Pew Global recently released a report about the correlation between smartphone use and economic growth, noting that the rates of technology-use are not only climbing steadily in advanced economies, but also in countries with emerging economies. As additional reference points, 39% of the Japanese population reports owning a smartphone, while 59% of Turkey reports relying on mobile internet use. These numbers decrease in developing countries, given the relationship that exists between a person’s educational background, socioeconomic status, and their access to technology.
Nothing super surprising in there per se, but damn we love us some screen time.
What’s the real deal with screen time?
The thing we all love to comment on is when you hit a bar/restaurant and see presumably a couple. They aren’t talking to each other. Phones out doing their thing. Everyone loves to comment on that when they see it. It might be the closest thing we have right now to “shared human condition.”
The screen time stuff kinda underscores to me that we have problems operating in base reality. We’re always looking for the next thing or update or push, even if we’re with loved ones. Is this true universally of everyone? Absolutely not. But is it true of a lot of people? Yes. I myself am frequently guilty of it. Someone reading this probably is too. This is a super socially-isolated time in America, and you have to assume one of the reasons is that people go out and get trumped by a phone. That feels a little less than stellar in the connectivity world.
60 Minutes just hit this target too: “defining your day by what pops up on screens.” A lot of us live that way.
So we can get better about screen time?
You’d hope, but this is a deeply psychological discussion, so it’s going to be a little harder than we think.
I’ll start with work. Screen time is a necessity in one way: you need to be reading and checking email and relevant apps/programs, because if you miss a message in there, people gonna lose their shit on you. We all know the drill. Tons of people ignore or avoid work email, yes, but they’re still reading it and looking at it. That’s screen time.
(Ironic thing: for the amount of time we spend around email, almost no one knows how to write an effective one.)
Countries like France have tried to legislate screen time, but again you’re dealing with psychology and people wanting to see what’s popping up — and wanting to look good to their boss. So I doubt it’ll work that well, but maybe I’ll be mistaken there.
At an individual level, I think the only way to beat back screen time is to care more about how you’re living life and the people you’re with. Do you want to be heads down in a phone chasing KPIs for a superior? If that’s what you want, then screen time isn’t a problem. However, if it’s not what you want, then you need to re-evaluate and hit some KPIs with your friends or lovers. Life is a giant water park tube of self-improvement, you know? Screen time is just one aspect of that.