Why and How to Limit Screen Time

woman in wilderness on cell phone


I watched a 3-hour DVD on Saturday, as well as some of the special features.  Then we turned on Olympic coverage and watched that for almost another 3 hours, including plenty of advertisements.  Before bed, I checked my email and wound up scrolling on Facebook for about 40 minutes.


That's not a typical day for me, though for many people nearly 7 hours of non-work screen time isn't unusual.  According to the most recent studies, Americans spend an average of 4.5 hours watching TV every day, plus over 5 hours on their smart phones (sometimes both at once).  This is time spent texting, emailing, shopping, watching videos, using social media, playing games, etc. – not making phone calls.  Some people spend up to 12 hours on their devices every day.


I don't know when they work or sleep or anything else.


Not surprisingly, even though plenty of tech entrepreneurs are excited about the ongoing growth in this area, some experts are becoming concerned.  Obesity, anxiety, and depression have been associated with increased screen time.  TechJury reports that "being constantly interrupted by alerts and notifications may be contributing toward a problematic deficit of attention."  And almost one-third of smart phone users in the U.S. admit that they spend less time with their partners and children than with their phones.


There's even a word for people who are addicted to their phones:  nomophobia (that's no-mobile-phone-phobia).  I'm not making this up!


Does this trend concern you?  Businesses are worried about distracted and unproductive workers (84% of U.S. workers and 75% of workers in the U.K. admit to using their phones for personal activities while on the job).  Schools are worried about distracted and unproductive students (72% of American teens watch videos, surf the Web, play games, and use social media apps during class).  Every day, people (especially teenagers) die because of looking at their phones while driving.


We don't even get away from screens when we're in bed.  Recent studies show that 70% of adults and 75% of children have a TV or computer (or both) in their bedrooms.  Most of us sleep with or next to a mobile device, and nearly half of us will check our phones if we wake up in the middle of the night.  Teens who spend 5 hours a day on electronic devices are more likely to get under 7 hours of sleep (they need 8 to 10 hours).  Consequences of sleep deprivation include high blood pressure, mood swings, an impaired immune system, and inability to focus, learn, or memorize.


Is any of this motivating you to put some limits on your screen time?


We aren't meant to be so passive.  Excessive screen time turns us into consumers rather than creators.  For all of human existence we have been producers, but now many of us never make anything.  When you get away from screens, you have time to garden, to cook, to craft, to make music.  Are you struggling to find time to declutter your home?  Turn off the screens.


We aren't meant to be so stationary.  The human body functions better when we move it.  Sitting (or even standing) hunched in front of a computer or over a phone is bad for your skeleton and for your muscles.  Make time to stretch, walk, or clean up and put things away.


We aren't meant to spend every moment indoors.  Machines don't need anything green, but we do.  When we spend all of our time in a virtual or man-made environment, we forget that we are dependent on nature.  When we shop online, we look only at the millions of products available, and seem to forget about the natural resources that go into manufacturing and shipping them.  Get outside, if only to mow the lawn, deadhead your roses, or sit in the sun.  Go on a picnic, a bike ride, or a hike.  It's a great time to bond with loved ones too.



5 Steps to Regaining Control Over Technology


1.  Start in the bedroom.

Improve your sleep, your health, your intimate relationship, and your child's well-being by making bedrooms tech-free zones.  Save TV watching for the living room or den and computers for the family area or office.  Create a charging station in another part of the house, buy a regular alarm clock, and replace bedtime screens with conversation, yoga, a physical book, or a journal.


2.  Restore mealtimes.

You can take half an hour to eat without phones or the TV!  Enjoy face-to-face conversation and the meal itself, rather than chatting online, watching a movie, or mindlessly stuffing your face.


3.  Turn off notifications.

For many of us, every time that phone light blinks we feel an uncontrollable urge to pick it up and see what's happened.  We're constantly interrupted by texts, emails, news alerts, ads, and more.  This destroys our concentration, keeps us from doing our best work, and prevents us from connecting with the people right in front of us.  Remove the impulse to respond like Pavlov's dog, and schedule a few specific times each day to check your messages.


4.  Unsubscribe.

Try choosing one or two trusted news sources, one social media account, one streaming service, and a handful of blogs.  (I hope you'll pick mine!)  Don't feel pressured to post or check in daily; these services are supposed to be for your benefit, not sources of stress or annoyance.  Consider disabling or completely removing 1/3 to 1/2 of your games and other apps.  Be more intentional about how you use your device.


5.  Take a sabbatical.

The average smart phone owner unlocks his device 150 times a day.  That means we can't go 10 minutes without checking!  So you could start by putting your phone in a charging station one hour before bedtime and expand from there.  Work toward a tech-free evening once a week, or tech-free Sundays (or another day).



If you are really interested in decluttering your digital life, I highly recommend Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport (paid link).  Newport defines digital minimalism as a way to "focus your online time to a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else."



Photo by Becca Tapert on Unsplash

Comments

  1. My life is very technology focused but looks differently from what you posted. I take no digital devices into my bedroom; that's where I sleep about 9 hours a night. I spend half my day on a computer but that's where I make my contributions to society. My spouse and I watch Netflix or DVDs, etc. for 2-3 hours most nights but we often pause what we are watching to discuss what we are seeing. My exercise programs are on DVDs so I can keep doing them even during stay-at-home orders. I read books on my tablet and am always amazed at the oddball things I learn by reading. I have no notices turned on at all so my days are not interrupted by those. I even keep my phone on silent so it only vibrates when the occasional call comes in. I check my email twice a day; more only if I have advertised something for sale on Craig's list, and I take photos for those listings using my phone's camera. My life was very different before all this technology became so prevalent but I can't say it is worse now.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Linda. I realize that many of us do our work on computers. The statistics I quote in this post are about non-work time in front of screens. So the quote about those who spend 12 hours on their phone, etc. is talking about non-work time. They probably spend more time working in front of a screen as well. So when are they interacting with the real world? Even those of us who spend less than 12 hours may need to rethink our habits. It sounds like you are already doing several of the things I mention, such as keeping screens out of the bedroom, limiting interruptions, etc. Technology is a useful and empowering tool, as long as we keep it in its place, so to speak, and avoid addictive behaviors. It sounds like your use is very healthy and intentional. Thanks for the comment!

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