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11 Hours, Seven Minutes: Why Do We Spend So Much Time On Our Screens?

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in my own life. Since quarantine started, my screen time has gone from maybe five hours a day to consistently almost 12. And I know people whose screen times exceed 18 hours a day. This number — 11 hours, seven minutes — scares me, because when I think about an […]

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in my own life. Since quarantine started, my screen time has gone from maybe five hours a day to consistently almost 12. And I know people whose screen times exceed 18 hours a day. This number — 11 hours, seven minutes — scares me, because when I think about an average day, I honestly could not tell you where that time goes.

Hours and hours of my day and my attention are wasted on a screen. The scariest part is that I don’t think I’d notice were it not for the numbers presented to me. And after watching a documentary on Netflix called The Social Dilemma about how tech companies will do anything to keep users on their screens for longer, I’ve really started to think about the negatives of something that rarely faces strong criticism.

Overuse of technology is affecting us all if we know it or not and if it’s apparent or not. One place this is particularly relevant is in school. I know that no matter how hard I try, I eventually burn an hour or two on my phone during class, time which I’m fully removed from the content that I’m supposed to be learning. I wanted to hear the perspectives of both students and teachers on the problem that I’ve experienced to see if they’ve noticed it in themselves as well.

Michele Ratliff (’22) finds herself constantly getting off-track of her schoolwork with her phone. “It’s definitely easier to get distracted on digital learning,” she says.

Social media and Netflix, a problem before digital learning, are Michele’s primary distractions, and they’re now even more accessible because of the anonymity and privacy afforded to her at home. Her experience reflects what I’ve felt — her work ethic is derailed by what she has around her.

“As soon as I get unmotivated, I pick up my phone, and before I know it, two hours are just gone.”

It’s hard for Michele to resist forgoing her homework and just going on her phone instead.

Presley Sperber (’22) feels similarly to my and Michele’s experience. For her, specifically, TikTok grabs her attention away from the important stuff.

“I’ll be working on my homework; then, I’ll get a notification on my phone. I’ll be like, ‘Oh, I’ll just check it.’ Then it turns out to be a TikTok notification. I’ll open it, and I just find myself scrolling.”

“You think to yourself, ‘well, they’re only 15-second videos,’ so if I watch ten, it only takes two minutes; but you don’t count to ten, and 100 feels just the same as ten does.”

Teachers aren’t immune either to the escapism of tech. Mr. Raymond Reel ’91 feels that digital learning gives students further leeway to distract themselves and has noticed the engagement of his students, both in the classroom and at home, being strongly influenced by their tech.

“I struggle to get people to ask questions in class anyway. And with this digital vibe, they go, ‘Hey, I can just have my face on the screen and I can sit around and check all this stuff on my phone, and it’s out of frame so Reel can’t see it.'” He sighs.

“It’s a lot easier to disengage [with technology], I guess, and I don’t even know if that’s the right word, because I think to say that they do means that they wanted to engage with school in the get-go.”

Just like the people he teaches, Mr. Reel acknowledges that he himself gets off focus frequently.

“Twitter, right? I check to see if the president went on a Twitter-storm again. I give myself five minutes and I look up and it’s been 20. Or I just want to look at pretty pictures so I go on Instagram and the next thing you know it’s 30 minutes later, and you go ‘Ah, crud, I’ve got grading to do, I’ve got to put this down.'”

Even during our interview, he was drawn off-topic by information on soccer scores from across the world delivered directly to his phone.

Of course, tech and our phones aren’t a bad thing; even just 30 years ago, the computing power we have access to would have seemed like magic. However, it comes with clear drawbacks to us that are hard to ignore. Every time I try to focus on homework now, I find myself lapsing back into the pleasant diversion of my phone, whether it be TV, the news, a game, anything.

This feeling of inability is incredibly frustrating for me, and I know it is for anyone who’s experienced it before. The accessibility and omnipresence of these devices are what makes them so easy to accidentally and almost unknowingly switch your attention to them. And it’s not just restricted to kids, either; for the scorn and punishment that adults give for the misuse or overuse of their tech, adults are just as capable of overuse of their phones as their children. Everyone is susceptible to the addictive nature of social media and their phones. The effects that it can have on our focus especially are something that I’m going to keep in mind.

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