Up until recently, there was no way of knowing how much time you were spending on your device but now Google and Apple have developed screen time trackers built into our smartphones. Their goal is clear – monitor and potentially curb time spent on your screen. Surely if two huge moguls are drawing attention to the time we spend immersed in our devices we may have a little problem. According to comScore’s 2017 Cross-Platform Future in Focus report, U.S. adults spend an average of 2 hours and 51 minutes on their smartphones every single day. In a separate study by eMarketer in 2016 which included tablet users, it was revealed that the total time spent on handheld devices was reaching up to 4 hours and 5 minutes a day. The numbers are shocking as is, but they’re still expected to rise in years to come.
Apple’s “Screen Time” is a built-in application that allows you to monitor how much time you’ve spent on your Apple device over the course of hours, days, and weeks. The app allows you to set time limits on your apps to control usage if you notice you’re spending too much time on a particular one. Once time limits are set, your phone will send you notifications to shut down an app, in other words, a very gentle nudge. Google, on the other hand, gets a little more agro when it comes to restricting screen time. The built-in “Digital Wellbeing” software will prohibit access to time-limited apps once you have exceeded daily usage. The icon goes grey and you can no longer open it.
As these two companies would presumably benefit from more time hooked to our screens the introductions of these features should be taken as a wakeup call that overuse of devices is a real health issue. With Apple’s “Screen Time,” people are being confronted with their unhealthy phone habits and how much time they waste on their phones serving as a form of shock therapy.
As for Google, Digital Wellbeing is currently only available on Google Pixel devices and we have yet to see an official release on other Android smartphones. We’ll just have to wait until there is a more complete rollout on Android 9. One thing is certain: both features are a welcome first step in the right direction.
People rely on facts and figures when it comes to regulating their health. Whether it’s how many calories you should be consuming a day, how many steps you should walk, or how many liters of water you should drink, there’s nothing more reassuring than hitting that recommended number.
So what about phone usage? Is there a neat little number we can rely on for a healthy balanced life? The short answer is a curt, “no.”
Different people have different phone habits. Some use their phones solely for entertainment, others use it to communicate and a vast majority are tethered to their devices for work. Whatever it is you’re using it for, you’re more or less incomplete without it. This may sound melodramatic but check out all the things we’d give up for our phones and you’ll realize it’s spot on.
We are so used to having our devices within our reach it can feel like missing a limb if you leave the house without it. In fact, 73% of Americans would feel panicked if they lost their phone and another 14% stated that they would feel desperate without their device.
Phone-use may bedevil the user, but it isn’t Mephisto incarnate. A paper published in the Frontiers in Psychology journal explains that our obsession with our phones is driven by our evolutionary need to socialize with others as well as our need to be seen by others while observing their behavior at the same time. Smartphones have become the main platform in which we satiate this impulse. But pesky human nature comes into play and once we get a little of something we crave – we over-consume.
“We need to use phones a lot less, and regain control over our phones and use them intentionally,” says Samuel Veissière, lead researcher of the study and assistant professor in McGill University.
Being mindful and aware of what works for you is key. If using your phone eight hours a day makes you feel genuinely happy, productive and fulfilled, by all means, spend those hours with your device. But for many of us spending that much time on our screens will lead to stress, anxiety, and overall distraction from things that may be more important. If you fall into the latter category, set yourself reminders to cut back.
For pre-teens and teens:
As there really is no magic number for the time we spend on our phones it’s difficult to properly advise teens. Studies have shown a direct correlation between the time spent on phones and the mental wellness of teens.
A report entitled Decreases in Psychological Well-Being among American Adolescents after 2012 and Links to Screen Time During the Rise of Smartphone Technology showed that adolescent self-esteem, life satisfaction, and happiness were constantly on the rise beginning in the early 1990s. However, this trend took a sharp turn in 2012, the same year smartphone ownership in the United States reached the 50% mark. This study used a large national survey of eighth to twelfth graders conducted annually by the University of Michigan. The same study also discovered that the psychological well-being of adolescents decreased the more time they spent in front of a screen in a single week. The report also contained stats on various screen and non-screen activities versus the amount of happiness gained from each activity. Screen activities included browsing the internet, using social media, video chats, texting, and gaming. Off-screen activities included sports, personal interactions, religious services, print media, and homework. All screen activities showed negative correlations with happiness while all non-screen activities displayed a positive correlation.
Adolescent usage is much more clear cut. The American Academy of Pediatrics released their new recommendations for children’s media usage.
Ultimately the older you are the less clear the lines are with phone usage. Thankfully features in our phones are there to help us monitor our time. As long as you keep track of your screen time and the way it’s making you feel you should be able to find a healthy tech/life balance.