May 11, 2019 by Cláudia
This new Apple feature, screen time tells you exactly how much time you spent in front of the screen during the week. I thought it was a great idea. I want to optimize my free time and make sure I am being productive, I thought. I was absolutely not expecting what it told me. 24 hours in front of a screen in the past week.
That’s one 390 pages book.
24 one-hour walks in the park.
10 social gatherings.
12 home-cooked full meals.
Infinite uncountable opportunities missed for staring blankly at a screen.
I could not help feeling an extreme disappointment in myself.
One big part of my identity was not being addicted to technology. I took great pride in being an outsider. I’ve had my phone for 5+ years and it is not a smartphone. I don’t really care about social media and rarely post anything online. I don’t really use Google maps to get places. I love reading actual books and being outside.
Yet… I spend 3+ hours a day looking at a screen, apparently.
My immediate reaction was to find excuses for myself – it is not that I am addicted. I use it to practice yoga sometimes. And to monitor how many steps I take a day. And to keep it touch with family and friends. To read news and to get more informed about what is going on in the world. So really, I am using it in a way that is helpful and improving my life.
But Screen Time is even more brutal – it tells you exactly how you spent all those hours. And it turns out, it wasn’t in what I told myself it was. 7 hours in a game. 3 hours in another game. 2 hours in yet another game. 4 hours on Youtube. 3 hours on social media in general. And surprisingly little in what I convinced myself that getting an Apple device (an iPod touch) was useful for.
What happened immediately was that I started frenetically to limit the usage of most apps, which is one of the features of Screen Time. This could be helpful when it comes to limiting screen time and being more productive. But it goes much deeper than just a lack of self-control. I work 8,5 hours every day in front of a computer. When I leave work, I sometimes have blurry vision from the strain that it is for my eyes or a headache. The last thing I need or want is more screen time yet I instinctively unlock my screen and open Instagram. Or a game. Or Youtube. There are new things being posted all the time, new missions in the game, new videos on Youtube… There is this feeling of obligation to be connected, to see all the notifications, to check all the new posts on social media and blogs. And then there is the instant gratification of a simple game that doesn’t require much thought. It is just there. Promising fun and intimacy and meaning. Available. All. the. time.
Weeks turn into blurs. I turned into a highly functional automaton. Nothing stood out. Nothing memorable to pinpoint. If you ask me what I did 3 days ago… I don’t remember. Time spent behind a screen is not memorable.
Intellectually, I always knew that screens had a hold on us (check out Imprisioned inside a screen). But I had never felt like a true prisoner. I could stop at any time. Turn it off. Get out of the house and do something. Nothing is stopping me or forcing me to watch one more episode or refresh social media one more time.
I gain absolutely nothing by staring at a screen for 3+ hours of my free time. It is even more unbelievable considering that with a full-time job 3 hours is honestly all of my free time.
This was such an obvious yet awakening realization – I am addicted to screens. I haven’t been out as much as I want to. I haven’t been reading. I haven’t taken walks in the park like I used to. We already have limited free time, but now I realize how much I could be doing if I didn’t waste so much time of mindless scrolling and tapping that honestly adds zero value to my life and makes me even more tired, cranky, lonely, self-conscious and disconnected from the real world.
It’s complete nonsense. What seems like nothing on a daily basis, when you add it up… well, you end up spending an entire lifetime staring at a screen. At this rate, when I am 80 years old I will have spent 80.000 hours looking at a screen (outside work). That’s an insane number. I could instead write several books. Organize a social movement. Learn 7 languages. Take on a sport. You name it.
In today’s rushed, technology-based world, it seems that our most precious and rare commodity is time. Nonetheless, as it turns out, we have time after all. We are just suffering from a very widespread and undiagnosed addiction. An activity that takes up most of our free time without actually making us grow and improve and that we don’t seem to be able to stop is an addiction.
We are addicted. Therefore, I don’t think it will be enough to limit app use. It is essential to disconnect. To turn the phone off. To leave it at home sometimes. To replace it with other activities that are more fulfilling and that make us forget about the world inside the screen. The world is out there. And it’s full of surprises and possibilities.
PS: After writing the first draft of this text, I went outside and sat in a park near the river. I stood there for about 40 minutes, breathing in and out and listening to the water flow and the birds chirping. I hadn’t noticed yet that the deciduous trees were blossoming and that everything was remarkably greener. It was glorious. As a bonus, I saw a squirrel and a heron flying. It was the most memorable day of the week.